The first limited edition of Ron Riley’s ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ appeared in 2013 , the year of the 50th Anniversary of E P Thompson’s seminal ‘Making of the English Working Class’, in which he set out to rescue early working class radicals from ‘the condescension of posterity’. The present revised, updated and new format edition was launched in 2020 to mark the bicentenary of the Yorkshire Radical uprising, which is the central theme of the book. Ron Riley’s work is therefore very timely as he sets out to rescue one of those revolutionaries, not only from condescension but also from obscurity, vividly locating him in that time of profound economic, social and political changes which have become subsumed under the title of the Industrial Revolution.
The picture Ron Riley paints is in stark contrast to the Jane Austen view of the period. He describes the trials and tribulations of working class life and work in careful detail, reconstructing conditions in the West Riding communities which shaped Lindley’s view of the world. The reader can almost feel the heat of the nail-makers workshop where Lindley learned his trade.
The wider backdrop of movements and ideas is also clearly described, bringing to life the political ferment which influenced Lindley’s ideas and set him and hundreds of others on a course of action which could have proved fatal. Although we have no record of Lindley’s personal thoughts, the milieu in which he circulated gives us some idea of what his concerns and ideals must have been. Ron Riley again depicts this with precision – the mounting anticipation of the insurrection, the disillusionment of defeat and the anxiety of the treason trials.
Ron Riley also follows Lindley on the convict ship and into exile in Van Diemen’s Land showing that he was no ordinary convict, but a man with some standing and respect both in the community he left and, as his early return home testifies, the one he was transported to.
The immense changes during Lindley’s remaining lifetime are also brought into the picture. ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ is not merely the story of one man, but an account of the working class in the West Riding as a whole. Ron Riley has not been content to rest with John Lindley as a small twig on a family tree. He has generated not only a rich foliage and colourful blossoms but also described the ecology in which John Lindley and other working class radicals flourished. ‘Yorkshire Rebel’ is an important contribution to our working class heritage and a valuable reminder of the struggles for freedom which still have a resonance today.
THE BOOK CAN BE OBTAINED FROM:
OR ORDER FROM YOUR LOCAL BOOKSHOP > ISBN 978-1-911438-36-6
It has been a tough twelve months for bricks and mortar bookshops so I would love to think that potential readers would like to put orders their way. If you want to read the book but money is tight, you can also buy a paperback edition on Amazon for a bit less than the hardcover. £19.99 for the hardcover and £15.99 for the paperback.
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.
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.”
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.
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 / 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
On March 7, the SDF resumed the supply of oil to the regime-controlled areas after a monthlong hiatus, which caused a fuel crisis in 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.
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.”
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?
Water outages in Syria’s northeast are often leaving around half a million people without potable water. Is Turkey using the outages as a weapon to destabilize the region, as some claim?
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.
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.”
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.
In the past few days there have been a series of large-scale ISIS attacks in Syria. Is the Islamic State coming back?
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.”
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).”
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’ leftistsocialrevolution in Rojava, the Kurds have been remarkably resilient. Not only have they managed to endure more than a year of ongoing Turkishattacks, 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 sharepower 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 Afrinin 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. Recentreports 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 haveindicated 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.
The working class has played an essential part of European countries’ history – through revolutions, wars and social progress. In 4 episodes of a spectacular tale, this show reminds us of what our societies owe to the workers’ movements and its struggles.
The story begins in the 18th century. But their fight carries on today. Much of our current democracies’ institutions and values flow from older working class demands: universal suffrage or social solidarity are some of its most telling examples. Our culture – the way we dress, the songs we listen to, the movies we watch and the mass-media themselves – heavily relies on the workers’ erstwhile popular culture. Finally, all across Asia, Africa and Latin America, millions of women and men experience lives similar to the 18th and 19th centuries’ European working class. We will bring out the present’s ever looming shadow by constantly flowing back and forth between history and current situations. Those contemporary testimonies and photographs will help us gather the threads of memory between yesterday and nowadays together again.
“Communist” history of own prominent family not black and white, says documentarian Stan Neumann
Among the guests at East Doc Platform, a parallel industry event to Prague’s One World festival of human rights documentaries, is director Stan Neumann, a man with a captivating personal history. Born in Prague, he left with his American mother for France in 1959. His father’s family had been prominent to say the least.
Stan’s great-grandfather Stanislav Kostka (S.K.) Neumann was a lauded poet, an anarchist who later co-founded the Czechoslovak Communist Party. His grandfather Stanislav, also a red, was a famous stage and movie actor. But it was the complicated fate of his father, yet another Stanislav, that we first discussed when I sat down with Stan Neumann last week.
“My father was… it’s very difficult to define, because he was supposed to be a writer, in fact. His mother, my grandmother, wanted him to be absolutely a replica of S.K. Neumann.
“In a certain way, I think he was not completely fit for that. I may say that from my point of view, it destroyed his life.
“These things with the generations, when somebody in the family thinks that the next generation must emulate the preceding generation, sometimes leads to catastrophes.”
He was a Communist poet, essentially?
“He had a very moving… path in life. Before the war he was in this kind of bourgeois, intellectual French gymnazium [grammar school], and so on.
“When he was 16, at the end of the war, he was arrested by the Nazis with a group of something like 50 gymnazium students and sent to the Small Fortress in Terezín.
“On May 2 the whole group was shot – it was May 2, the war was over – and he was the only survivor from this group, because he was dying from typhus.
“From then on he had a kind of fidelity pact with the [Communist] Party, from which he didn’t want to deviate. This created a strange situation, because he was very young but when destalinisation came, he behaved like an old Stalinist.
“He was one of the few who didn’t accept destalinisation. It broke his literary career. Then he became a small functionary, a cultural attaché, and finally he broke with the party only after the [1968 Soviet-led] invasion.
“And he committed suicide the day before he had to answer to a special commission and he was about to be expelled from the party. So it’s very sad – a broken life, broken by I would say politics, war, family, thing like that.”
You were telling me your mother [Claudia Ancelot] worked for Radio Prague.
“Yes. My mother came here with my father. They met in Paris in ’47 and she came here at the worst moment possible. Then they started to live in this house in Žižkov with the family.
“Then the political situation became such that my father realised that it was a big political mistake to have married an American Jew from German origins. In these times, it was the worst combination possible.
“So there a quick divorce, and the grounds were the political immaturity of my mother [laughs]. Then she found herself here with two children and had to find a job. She found one at the international section of the Radio.
“She made broadcasts for the States, in the middle of the night calling for American workers to rise and overthrow capitalism [laughs].”
Did you ever visit the Radio in those days?
“Yeah, I loved that. I still have very wonderful memories from the pater noster and the feeling of it and the people there. And the canteen – for a child it was fantastic.
“Later when I was eight or nine, before we left for France, I used to make false Communist programmes. I was supposed to be a young pioneer, coming back from vacation, very glad [laughs].”
I imagine it must have been a difficult experience for your mother, living here in the ‘50s?
“It was very strange, very difficult, very dangerous. At this moment, the head of the international section was Lise London and at the time of the Slánský trials my mother had the perfect profile, coming from the States, so it was very difficult [London was the wife of Artur London, a co-defendant in the anti-Semitic show trial of Rudolf Slánský, who was also found guilty but not executed].
“But my mother was always very curious and she was very happy to see what was going on. She learned Czech. She became one of the best translators from Czech to French. Later when she went to France, she was the translator of Hrabal. She interpreted for Havel, and so on.
“I think the situation was so tense but also so interesting that she enjoyed it [laughs].”
I often get the impression when I hear about women like your mother, who here from the West came after the war, that they were quite isolated. People were perhaps wary of speaking to foreigners.
“Yes. But there was a small group of people with very strange destinies. For example at the American section [at Radio Prague] there was an American soldier who came here after the war because of a love story which collapsed.
“My mother had a very close friend who was a British doctor, a woman, who came for political reasons. So there was a small group. Then there was the French section, where she met her second husband.
“We were isolated because we lived in special places, in hotels or in buildings, under the close watch of janitors and the people around.
“But it was not lonely, at least for her. Because she had experience of emigration. She had left Germany when she was 12 years old in ’33, then she to flee France. Then the States. France again. She was used to a strange life.”
So she left this country, because she met a French man, is that right?
“It was a quite difficult situation. Because my father didn’t want to her to leave with the children, and she didn’t want to leave without the children.
“So it took almost 10 years before she could obtain the permit to leave with us. At this time she met a French journalist who was working in the French section at the Radio [laughs].
“Like many people at this time, it was after Budapest, so he was completely disappointed with communism – but at the same time he loved the country.
“Many people had this story. They came here and in two, three months their eyes were opened, they saw the reality of the society, but they fell in love with Prague, with the Czech people, and so on.
“My stepfather was so much in love with Czechoslovakia that when the Prague Spring happened in 1967 and ’68, he returned here and started to work once again for the international section of the Radio. He preferred the life here to the life in France.”
You left at the end of the 1950s. Did you follow events in Czechoslovakia closely from France?
“Yes. I left on a Czech passport. My grandfather and grandmother were still alive and I was in love with my Czech family, and my aunt and the house.
“So as soon as I could do it, I used to come here. I think I spent all my holidays in Prague. I was very close to it and for a very long time I felt it was my home more than Paris.”
I know you’ve made many films, but I’d like to speak about one of them, A House in Prague. Tell us about that film.
“It was a film I made quite late. After the revolution here, the situation in France was that all the filmmakers suddenly discovered Prague and rushed here and started to make films. I found it a little bit like vultures.
“So I waited till ’95, ’96, when the wave ended, to feel able to return and to make a film about my family story and about the house.
The house is a villa in Žižkov?
“The house is a villa in Žižkov in which my great-great-grandfather created an anarchist commune at the beginning of the 20th century, and which then was the house of my grandfather and my grandmother, but divided between them and the other part of the family.
“My grandfather was red establishment, let’s say a mild Stalinist, and his sister was a kind of bohemian anarchist – and the house was a battleground between the two parts of the family. This is basically the story of the film.
“But it was a very, very moving film for me, and very difficult. I think it’s one of the most difficult things to do, at least for me, to turn the camera in the direction of my own stories.
“Because in all my films I have always the pleasure of discovering something new. And if you are with your own stories, you don’t discover anything, you just tell what you already know.”
Was there nothing you discovered in the making of A House in Prague?
“There was something, which was that when I started to make the film I had a kind of judgmental position: wrong, right, black, white.
“And as I entered into the life of this house and the life of the people in this country, I started to see that the situations were much more complex, much more difficult, much more painful in a certain way.
“But there was also much more life in it than we see when we look at it from today.
“The second thing is I did with this film as I do with all of my major films, which is that I took this part of my history and I put it in the film, so that I can be freed of it, in a certain way.”
KOBANI, Syria (North Press) – The Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in northeast Syria announced on Thursday the inauguration of the first foodstuff factory in the country’s northern town of Kobani.
The Syrian government, under complete control of the Arab Socialist Baath Party, banned factories and universities in the country’s predominantly Kurdish north since 1960, until the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011 and the establishment of the Kurdish-led administration.
The Autonomous Administration’s Economic Authority opened a foodstuff factory called Khairat Al-Furat in the Qena Village west of Kobani.
North Press toured the factory, observing about 60 workers, most of whom are women, operating the factory.
The factory, which belongs to the public sector, manufactures jam, molasses, tomatoes, and peppers, in addition to spices, workers told North Press.
Factory director Kameran Omar told North Press that establishing the factory came as a response to the economic crisis and the tremendous rise in food prices in the region, especially after collapse of the local currency.
“We opened this factory to ease the burden on residents, who find it difficult to buy expensive products from the market,” he said.
“Despite the short period that has passed since the opening of the factory, it became clear to us that it has a great benefit to the workers in the factory and the population,” he continued.
He added that the goal of factory is not to make profit, but to benefit from the region’s resources and achieve self-sufficiency.
Most workers said they were happy to have a spirit of cooperation with their work, and a sense of responsibility in their human duty to contribute to and support to the region’s economy.
Amina Ali, a worker in the factory, said she joined the work to provide foodstuffs that the people of the region need.
“We work with all our efforts to achieve progress in an economic field to find a balance between supply and demand, and we seek with time to export foodstuffs out of the region.”
Young worker Fatima Bouzan expressed her joy over the factory’s opening.
“This project is a step towards progress and prosperity, as it has great benefit to workers here who were in urgent need of work,” she said.
For about five decades, northern Syria lacked economic projects that met the needs of the population. Currently, the Autonomous Administration is working on security and stability projects to clear the region from ISIS cells and terror groups, meaning that economic projects can sometimes be a second-tier priority.
(Reporting by Victor Mustafa, editing by Hisham Arafat and Lucas Chapman)
YPG Martyr Omer Şêxo laid to rest in Hesekê
YPG fighter Omer Şêxo was laid to rest with a ceremony held at Martyr Dijwar graveyard in Hesekê.
Saturday, 11 Jul 2020, 11:32
YPG fighter Omer Şêxo, who fell martyr in Hesekê as a result of his illness on 5 July, was laid to rest with a ceremony held at Martyr Dijwar graveyard in the village of Dawidiyê.
Speaking at the military ceremony organized by the YPG, YPJ and SDF fighters, Martyrs’ Families Council member Sultan Ehmed said that they would continue their struggle on the path of the martyrs.
Speaking at the ceremony, PYD co-chair Ayşe Hiso paid tribute to all the martyrs of freedom and said: “Let’s stand against the invading Turkish state, which wants to destroy our values and the achievements of our people.”
Stressing that the fight against all crimes committed by the Turkish state will continue with determination, Ayşe Hiso added: “We will build a free and democratic Syria with our people’s will.”
After the speeches, the identity information of SDF fighter Amar Osman (Birusk) and HPG guerrilla Rüstem Cudi was also announced by the Martyrs’ Families Council.
The martyrdom paper of Martyr Omer Şexo was delivered to his family.
At the end of the ceremony, Martyr Omer’s body was buried, accompanied by slogans.
Turkey weaponizes water and electricity against Syria’s Autonomous Administration areas
ISTANBUL, Turkey (North Press) – A state of dissatisfaction exists among activists and politicians concerned with Turkish affairs due to Turkey’s foreign policy, the latest of which is the restriction on the population of northeastern Syria, especially in Hasakah, by reducing the water level of the Euphrates River.
Turkey did not justify this measure, and observers believe that it aims to pressure the Autonomous Administration in North and East Syria, ignoring the humanitarian situation and civilian need for water.
Observers added that this issue decreased electricity production, and interrupted a large number of water pumps needed to provide water to agricultural land, amid fears of the consequences if this situation continues.
Turkish activist Aisha Kaya, who is concerned with Syrian affairs, said in an interview with North Press that “Turkey may take this step in defiance of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Hasakah, Raqqa and parts of Deir ez-Zor, especially since Turkey accuses the SDF of reducing the electricity amount to the Operation Peace Spring area, which is a Turkish-held area, and this matter disturbed Turkey.”
Turkish Armed Forces and Turkish-backed armed opposition groups took control of the cities of Sere Kaniye and Tel Abyad and their surrounding countrysides as part of Operation Peace Spring in October 2019. Since this time, residents in the region have reported many human rights abuses, including theft, looting, assault, kidnapping and murder.
Kaya added that “there is an agreement between the SDF and Turkey, under Russian auspices, in which SDF provides 15 megawatts of electricity to Turkish-held areas in northeastern Syria, and that the opposition’s Syrian National Army and local councils operate Alouk water station to supply Hasakah with water.”
“Alouk station is under Turkey’s control; it provides Hasakah governorate with water. Hence, Turkey’s pressure on the SDF may lower the water level of the Euphrates,” according to Kaya.
Kaya pointed out that “the sharp fall in Euphrates’ [water] level will affect the electricity that feeds Syria’s northeastern areas.”
Media sources said that co-chair of Executive Council of the Autonomous Administration Ilham Ahmad accused Turkey of attempting to control residents of Autonomous Administration areas, and that Turkey cut off drinking water flow from Alouk’s station to more than half a million people in Hasakah.
“Turkey cut off the Euphrates’ water after it built dams on it; by doing this it exposes the lives of about five million Syrians to risk,” Ahmed added.
According to an agreement signed between Syria and Turkey in 1987, Turkey must provide 500 cubic meters of water per second to Syria, though Turkey has thus far ignored the stipulations of this agreement.
Mustafa Bazerkan, an Iraqi petrol and electricity expert, told North Press that “the Turkish step may have political aims: to put the Syrian government under pressure, or a means to discuss the amount of water…the third reason may be technical, keeping in mind that a year ago, there was also a problem with Iraq in releasing or reducing water, because Turkey filled the dam’s large reservoirs that have been established recently.”
In 2019, the Iraqi Ministry of Water Resources accused Turkey of causing a water shortage in Iraq, stating that the Tigris River’s supply of water at the Turkish border would decrease from 20.93 billion cubic meters annually to 9.7 billion cubic meters after the opening of the Turkish Ilisu Dam on the river.
According to observers, Turkey is weaponizing water and electricity against residents of Autonomous Administration areas to force them to accept its terms in the absence of international moves to stop Turkey, repeating the Iraqi scenario.
SDF Spokesperson: Turkey prepares further attacks
Kino Gabriel, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), warns of new attacks by Turkish invasion forces.
Wednesday, 8 Jul 2020, 13:11
Turkey seems to be preparing for another major attack on Rojava. The Turkish army is drawing together further troops in the areas it has occupied in north-east Syria. ANHA news agency interviewed SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel about the current developments and said: “The Turkish state is intensifying its attacks and constantly committing new crimes. Therefore, we are on alert and we are expecting a new large-scale attack at any moment. Recently, Turkey has been spreading the rumour that the SDF is breaking the ceasefire of 2019. This is a pretext for a new invasion. A new invasion is not unlikely. Preparations are being made for it.”
“We are coordinating with the US and Russia”
Gabriel explains that they are coordinating with the forces that brought about the ceasefire in October 2019: “These forces are the international coordination, the US and Russia. Our aim with this coordination is to prevent a possible attack by Turkey.”
Turkey is committing crimes”
As SDF, we are responding to the calls for a global ceasefire due to the Coronavirus pandemic and have fulfilled our responsibilities. But the Turkish state continues to commit crimes with its drone attacks and artillery fire.”
Gabriel warns that a new attack is dangerous. The destruction and flight that an attack will attempt will negatively affect the fight against the pandemic worldwide, he said.
Germany admits Turkish presence in Rojava “not legitimate”
For the first time, two years after the invasion of Northern and Eastern Syria carried out by Turkey, the German Federal Government admitted that the “occupation is not justified under international law.”
Monday, 6 Jul 2020, 09:58
The Federal Government replied to a question from Evrim Sommer (Die Linke) about the invasion of north-east Syria carried out by Turkey: “From the Federal Government’s perspective, the Turkish argument is not beyond doubt. With regard to the “Operation Peace Spring”, the Federal Government has announced that it cannot identify any reasons that would legitimize the operation under international law.”
With this reasoning, the Federal Government is following the findings of the Bundestag’s scientific services that the invasion of northern Syria is not covered by international law.
In October 2019, they had determined: “In the absence of a self-defense situation, the establishment of a Turkish ‘security zone’ in northern Syria does not constitute an act of self-defense permitted under international law. Even in the (hypothetical) case of self-defense, there is no doubt about the inappropriateness of the Turkish military operation.”
In addition, the Federal Government pledged the support of several health non-governmental organizations in Rojava with one million euros for measures against the Covid-19 pandemic. So far, the Federal Government had only financially supported forces that actively oppose the self-government of the region.
Commenting on the Federal Goevrnment’s reply, deputy Evrim Sommer said: “We welcome that the Federal Government is officially announcing for the first time that it recognizes no reasons that legitimize Turkey’s attacks against the democratic self-government in Northeast Syria under international law. It is a diplomatically wrapped but resounding slap in the face for the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
The Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) is a political assembly representing political parties and organizations in North and East Syria. The SDC creates a political framework for the governance of Syria along a decentralized, federal model. It is the political body to which the SDF reports. It is also the political counterpart to the Autonomous Administration, which takes on more administrative and executive functions. Negotiations with the Syrian government, as well as diplomatic relations with international powers, are generally conducted through the SDC.
Origins of the SDC
In its founding declaration, the Council set itself the task of “leading the Syrian revolutionary democratic movement along the right course, and ending the present fragmentation, bloodshed and darkness the country is being dragged through.”
The SDC, was created in 2015. 103 high-profile individual members and representatives of Syrian political parties and organizations were present at the congress which founded the SDC. In its founding declaration, the Council set itself the task of “leading the Syrian revolutionary democratic movement along the right course, and ending the present fragmentation, bloodshed and darkness the country is being dragged through.”
Participants in the founding congress of the SDC came from a range of political backgrounds and engaged in negotiations concerning key issues and principles behind the establishment of this new political body. One point of discussion which generated internal controversy was the continued use of the term “Syrian Arab Republic,” seen by many as part of the heritage of the oppressive Ba’ath regime. The congress eventually reached consensus on the term Democratic Syrian Republic, and agreed on a strategy of working towards a federal model for Syria rather than the top-down centralistic model of the Assad regime.
The SDC supported the development of the democratic administration of Manbij, Tabqa, Raqqa and Deir-ez-Zor after they were liberated from ISIS by the SDF. At a congress of the SDC in July 2018, the decision was taken to create the Autonomous Administration to carry out the work of establishing communes, councils and confederalism in each region. This enabled SDC to focus on its role as a political body, rather than an administrative one.
How the SDC is organized
The SDC contains three main bodies: the Executive Council, the Political Council and the General Conference. In many ways the Executive Council takes a leadership function because it is smallest and meets most often. For instance, Executive Council chair Ilham Ahmed led a delegation to the United States Congress to discuss the Turkish invasion in October 2019. However, both the Political Council and the General Conference are larger and more representative and so are considered to be higher bodies. The General Conference meets only once a year, acting as a more direct form of democratic input but without much executive power. The Political Council meets on a monthly basis. The SDC organizes its work through several offices: the Organizational Office, Women’s Office, Foreign Relations Office, Media Office, Youth Office, Finance Office and Archive Office.
The SDC contains a mix of political parties, civil society organizations and individuals. The membership of the SDC represents all the components of society in North and East Syria; Arabs, Kurds, Syriac-Assyrians, Armenians, Circassians, Chechen and Turkmen. People who want to join the SDC as individuals must make a written submission outlining their goal in joining the assembly, and the relevant group within the SDC conducts research on that person and whether they are suitable for membership. To be considered for membership, the individual needs to accept the principles of the SDC, such as the co-chair system, be making a genuine effort to resolve the Syrian crisis, and be of Syrian nationality. The person does not need to be resident in Syria, as they can join the meetings via a digital platform.
Roles and responsibilities
We will not accept a situation like before, that the Ba’ath party making laws, dividing and destroying. We want the constitution to be changed, we want formal acceptance of the Kurds and Syriacs and Assyrians…so we can take our place in a diverse nation. We don’t accept Syrian politics without a place for all the people of Syria.
Jihat Omar, co-chair of the External Relations Office of the Syrian Democratic Council
The purpose of the SDC is to work towards a democratic confederal Syria through conversations, consensus building and diplomacy. The SDC poses itself as an alternative to the Syrian National Council, which has been criticized for being under the influence of Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as of the government of Turkey, where it is based. Like the Syrian National Council, the SDC is in opposition to the Assad regime. The SDC states its aim as bringing together a coalition of democratic forces within Syria to build the movement towards a democratic political solution for the country. The Council has a stated focus on ‘Syrian – Syrian dialogue’ to envision a future for Syria, rejecting the dominant framework of international powers such as Russia, Turkey or the USA determining the fate of the region. Three conferences have already been held as part of this process.
This ‘Syrian – Syrian dialogue’ process also includes meetings with opposition parties and personalities who are not engaging in the SDC system, both within Syria and in the diaspora. Through these meetings, Council members say they aim to understand the criticisms and reservations of those who do not participate in the system, and to build understanding and unity. There have also been meetings organized within Syria with different sectors of society. For instance, a meeting was organized in Ayn Issa in May 2019 which brought together members of the SDC and 5,000 Arab tribe leaders. The Council is planning a mass conference, aiming to bring together 2,000 intellectuals to develop ideas and solutions for the challenges facing Syria. The SDC also aims to bring together organizations in a ‘National Conference of Syria’ to build a unified political vision for Syria, strengthen the movement for a democratic, federal Syria, and further the case for participation in the Geneva talks to write a new constitution for Syria. However, the official process for writing a new Syrian constitution has recently started with no representation from the confederal structures of North and East Syria and only nominal inclusion of Kurdish minorities through ENKS. There is also no inclusion of women’s organizations from North and East Syria.
The diplomatic role of the SDC
The Council plays a diplomatic role both within Syria and internationally. In October 2019, following the Turkish invasion, a delegation headed by Ilham Ahmed, chair of the Executive Council, traveled to the USA. The delegation met with members of the US Congress on the 22nd October to discuss the future of North and East Syria. Delegations of the SDC have also met with government representatives across Europe, and members of the Council have attended meetings in countries around the world, including Australia, Lebanon and Tunisia.
The SDC is the political entity engaged in negotiations with the Syrian regime about the future of North and East Syria’s relationship with the Syrian government. The stance of the Council up to now has been that they want to be integrated within the Syrian state, but in a federal system with a degree of autonomy, and with guarantees of respect for all the ethnic and religious groups living in Syria.
The incorporation of the SDF into the Syrian Army has been a contested issue between the SDC and the Syrian government in discussions about possible integration of the political systems. For a long time maintaining the SDF as a separate military force was presented as a non-negotiable by the SDC, because “without defense forces, how should we be able to protect our people and our political vision?” (Jihat Omar, co-chair of the Foreign Relations Office of the SDC). Although the SDC lost a significant amount of bargaining power due to the Turkish invasion, they continue to affirm that “the autonomy of the SDF in the region protected by it” (General Command of the SDF, 30 October 2019) must be maintained, although they may concede some degree of integration.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – More than a dozen organizations have signed a letter to European human rights officials detailing abuses committed by Turkey and Turkish- backed groups in northern Syria.
“Since the start of Turkish military operations on the areas of Kurdish origin in northern Syria, the region has turned into a hotspot full of all forms of human rights violations,” reads the letter addressed to Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Robert Ragnar Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights.
The 18 signatories have unanimously accused Ankara and its Syrian proxies of committing “war crimes, crimes against humanity, as well as crimes of ethnic cleansing and genocide.”
Turkey and its Syrian proxies launched a military operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northern Syria in October 2019, seizing control of a stretch of northern Syria, known to Kurds as Rojava, including Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) Gire Spi (Tal Abyad). Hundreds of thousands of civilians were displaced in the offensive.
The military offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, followed the March 2018 invasion of Afrin, in Aleppo province, which came under control of Turkish forces and their Syrian militia proxies following two months of intense fighting with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Since then, human rights monitors have accused these groups of serious violations against locals.
“The opposition prevented the displaced civilians from returning to their homes, practiced theft, robbery, plunder, armed robbery, confiscated property and crops, burned them, burned forests, abducted civilians, and arbitrarily arrested them. Cemeteries and cultural symbols were destroyed,” the letter added.
Violations have been “confirmed by reports of governmental organisations, and non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the reports of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry for Syria.”
According to numerous organizations, Turkish-backed armed groups in northwestern Syria have committed repeated violations against the local population with impunity, including killing, kidnapping, and sexual violence.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a late November report that pro-Turkish militiamen prevented Syrian Kurds from returning to their homes. Instead, they “looted and unlawfully appropriated or occupied their property.”
“Executing individuals, pillaging property, and blocking displaced people from returning to their homes is damning evidence of why Turkey’s proposed ‘safe zones’ will not be safe,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.
Prominent war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed to Rudaw English that it had signed the petition.
Other signatories include the Kurdish Committee for Human Rights, Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Austria, The Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Syria (MAF) and Kurdish Civil Society Organization in Europe.
Turkey blocked the water supply from the Euphrates into Kurdish-held areas in northeast Syria last week, according to local officials.
Ilham Ahmed, president of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) said that Ankara “intentionally” withheld the water to induce “a real drought in Syria.”
Vocational training center for women opens in Kobani, north Syria
Kobani – Opening a vocational training center for women – North Press
KOBANI, Syria (North Press) – The Free Women’s Foundation in the Euphrates region opened a center for training women in the city of Kobani on Sunday which aims to assist women and empower them economically and educationally.
“Women started training on first aid, sewing, hairdressing, literacy in both Arabic and Kurdish, and computer literacy in the Ari Center for Training, said Amina Muhammad, an official in the Foundation.
“About 70 women joined the training courses, and the number is expanding.”
The duration of the courses ranges between one to three months, Muhmmad stated.
She added that the goal of the courses is to empower the women economically by teaching them professions and providing them job opportunities to achieve economic independence and help their families.
The Free Women’s Foundation in the Euphrates region opened a center for training women in the town of Sirrin, south of Kobani, on February 26 this year.
(Reporting by Fattah Issa, editing by Lucas Chapman)
NORTHEASTERN SYRIA – (North Press) – Ilham Ahmad, the executive president of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC) accused Turkish authorities of trying to create a drought in Syria by cutting off Syria’s share of the Euphrates River.
“The Euphrates River has been a life source for the people of the region since the beginning of human civilization; Turkey, through a number of dams, deliberately reduced the water level to create drought in Syria,” Ahmad tweeted.
Ahmad attached a video showing a marked drop in the water level in the Euphrates River basin, and a large area of the river basin being transformed into dry land that was previously submerged in water.
The video shows a person speaking from behind the camera, who says nowadays the Turks have cut off the waters of the Euphrates River, confirming that he is walking in the middle of the river on foot, and only a small part of the river remains.
On Saturday, the General Administration of Dams in the Euphrates Region announced the reduction of power supply hours for areas in northeastern Syria due to the significant drop in the water level of the dams, accusing Turkey of cutting off water.
An agreement concluded between Syria and Turkey in 1987 stipulates a commitment Turkey to provide a flow of water at a rate of 500 cubic meters per second to Syria, and in 1994 Syria registered the agreement signed with Turkey at the United Nations to ensure the minimum amount of water.
Engineer Jihad Bayram, head of the Operations Room in Tishreen Dam, told North Press earlier that the water supply that crosses the Euphrates River does not exceed 200 cubic meters of water, although the agreements stipulate that the water intake should be 500 cubic meters per second.
Syrian Kurds say Turkish charity dwarfed by stolen produce
As Turkey touts its humanitarian aid deliveries to Syria’s Idlib, critics weigh the six truckloads of supplies against its thousands of tons of allegedly looted Syrian grain.
A woman pushes a cart loaded with a sack of wheat in Qamishli, Syria, Sept. 18, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Rodi Said.
Amberin Zaman @amberinzaman
Jun 22, 2020
Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that on Monday, two Turkish charities had sent six trucks carrying humanitarian aid to the rebel-held province of Idlib in northwest Syria.
“Truckloads of supplies including flour, clothing and dry food [donated] by the Adana Dosteller and Eskisehir Gunisigi charities entered Idlib through the Yayladagi border crossing in Turkey’s southern Hatay province. The aid will be distributed among families living in tents in Idlib,” Anadolu reported.
Turkey’s generosity to millions of displaced Syrians inside Syria and Turkey alike has been well documented. But critics of Ankara’s Syria policy charge that it’s giving with one hand and stealing with the other.
A report released today by Syrians for Truth and Justice, a non-partisan nonprofit documenting human rights violations in Syria, lays out in exhaustive detail how the Turkish government has facilitated commerce conducted by its Syrian National Army allies in looting grain. The grain is from eight silos that were confiscated in October during Turkey’s Operation Peace Spring, which resulted in Turkey’s occupation of a large swath of territory between the towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ain formerly controlled by the United States’ Syrian Kurdish allies.
Based on interviews with a range of actors including National Army commanders as well as employees at the grain silos, Syrians for Truth and Justice unveiled a network of grain dealings conducted by a Turkish government company — the Turkish Grain Board, known as TMO for short — and “armed groups’ commanders who personally seized amounts of the grain storage” and “then sold them to either local or Turkish merchants” and kept the proceeds for themselves. The theft is documented by satellite imagery showing transportation trucks taking the grain away from the silos.
The allegations will further blot Turkey and the National Army’s image in northeast Syria. Ankara is accused of overseeing or directly participating in a panoply of abuses, including summary executions, abductions, looting, crop burning and weaponizing water against the Kurds.
The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria told the authors of the report that it had left behind about 730,000 tons of wheat, barley, fertilizers, cotton and seed as it withdrew in the face of advancing Turkish forces. “This stock is the strategic reserve for the next three years and constitutes 11% of the total stock of Raqqa and Hasakah provinces,” said Salman Baroudo, the co-chair of the commerce committee of the autonomous administration.
A ton of wheat produces around 850 kilograms of flour, and a ton of flour produces 1.2 tons of bread, explained an autonomous administration official to illustrate the scale of the loss.
The Syrian National Army denied that it was engaged in any looting from grain silos but officials from the Istanbul-based Syrian Interim Government and employees of the local councils claimed the opposite.
Syrians for Truth and Justice executive director Bassam al-Ahmad told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview that the looting “fits a broader pattern of abuses as were perpetrated in Turkish-occupied Afrin. Turkey is buying looted wheat.” Afrin is the Kurdish-majority enclave that was occupied by Turkey in 2018. Crimes committed by Turkey’s Sunni rebel allies have been well documented. They include rape, arbitrary detentions and industrial-scale extortion of local olive farmers, with much of their oil finding its way to Turkey and exported to foreign markets under Turkish labels, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reported.
The TMO insists that it only imports surplus barley but no wheat from Syria. But the trade is driving up prices, noted Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Syria expert and fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia. She told Al-Monitor, “It’s absolutely true that wheat and grain is being looted. I’ve confirmed it with the factions. They are stealing the wheat and barley that is cultivated in large swaths of land between Ras al-Ain and Tell Abyad and selling it to Turkey.”
Tsurkov added that Turkey was offering more money for the commodities “than any other actor in Syria is offering to farmers. Therefore there is a clear incentive to sell to Turkey.”
But even as Turkey engages in such transactions, it continues to prevent any flow of humanitarian aid from its borders to the Kurdish-held areas. The COVID-19 pandemic has not softened Turkey’s stance while the collapse of the Syrian currency has compounded people’s misery across the country.
Protests erupted today in Tell Abyad and the town of Suluk, also under Turkish control, over deteriorating living conditions and rising food prices, especially that of bread.
In Suluk, a crowed gathered outside the local Turkish-appointed council and called for its removal, reported the Violation Documentation Centre in North Syria in a tweet. It said in a separate call for action yesterday that Turkish soldiers were targeting farmers on the Turkish-Syrian border. Syrian Kurdish farmer Muhayuddin Abdurazak died after allegedly being shot by a Turkish border guard on May 17.
Thomas McClure, a researcher at the Rojava Information Center, which publishes reports on the Kurdish-controlled region for international audiences, told Al-Monitor that the area affected by Operation Peace Spring encompasses 440,000 hectares of arable land producing up to 763,000 tons of wheat. “Turkey’s instillation of proxy militias ın this once productive region has severely impacted the remainder of northeast Syria and those civilians who have remained in the zone of occupation. The loss of vital arable land places further pressure on the remainder of the northeast, where per UN figures 1.94 million people are in need of humanitarian aid,” he noted.
McClure backed up Syrians for Truth and Justice, saying, “Grain silos were rapidly looted, with tens of thousands of tons of wheat transferred to Turkey for sale or sold to local merchants at extortionate prices. Bread, the local staple, doubled in price in the months following the invasion, while other local essentials like cooking gas are now five times as expensive as elsewhere in northeast Syria.”
The governor of Turkey’s Sanliurfa province, where the occupation is administered from, told Anadolu last week that Turkey would be opening a new gate between Ras al-Ain and the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar. Abdullah Erin said the gate would be “for both Ras al-Ain and Ceylanpinar,” much as the opening of a gate from Turkey’s nearby border town of Akcakale had been for Tell Abyad. The pro-government Daily Sabah reported, “Citizens frequently voice that daily life is getting better as a result of the reconstruction of infrastructure” in Tell Abyad and in Ras al-Ain. Today’s protest paints a different picture.
KOBANI, Syria (North Press) – The General Administration of Dams in the Euphrates Region announced on Saturday the reduction of electricity hours for the Jazira region due to the massive decrease in the level of the dam’s water. The Administration accused the Turkish state of cutting water to the regions of North and East Syria.
The General Administration of Dams in the Euphrates Region declared in a statement that was read at Tishreen Dam that “the water supply of the Euphrates River from the Turkish state reached less than a quarter of the internationally agreed-upon quantity.”
Engineer Jihad Bayram, head of the operations room at Tishreen Dam, told North Press that, “according to international agreements, the water intake should be 500m3 per second, whereas now it is 200m3 per second.”
“Turkey besieges [northeast Syria] by controlling the water supply of the region,” he added.
“The General Administration of Dams announced that it will adopt a electricity supplying program for ten hours, from 2 p.m. until 12 a.m., until further notice while monitoring the low reservoir levels. A new program will be approved if the water level falls more than that, so the lakes do not reach the “dead zone”, where the lakes cannot generate electric power,” according to the statement.
“The supplying period will be ten hours, from 2 p.m. until 12 a.m., is for the Euphrates region by the Euphrates Dam and Tishreen. As for the Jazira region, it will be supplied from 8 p.m. until 6 a.m. by the Swedeya Dam in the Derik countryside, which works on oil energy.”
The statement concluded that reducing water to northern Syria will directly affect environmental wealth and agricultural products, and will affect the community’s economy and the general food security of the average citizen.
(reporting by Fattah Issa, editing by Lucas Chapman)
Turkish drone strike kills 3 women in north Syria’s Kurdish city of Kobani
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Turkish drone strike on Tuesday evening killed three civilian females at a residence in the village of Helincê, located outside the northern Syrian city of Kobani, according to local security forces.
The General Command of the Kurdish-led Internal Security Forces (ISF), also known as the Asayesh, in an official statement said blamed the “Turkish occupation” for the attack.
“We in the General Command of the Internal Security Forces (ISF) for Northeast Syria condemn the crimes of the Turkish occupation against our people and we also call on the International Coalition and the Russian Federation to do their duty.”
The ISF demanded that the United States and Russia hold Turkey to its stated commitment to the “ceasefire agreement between the two states of Russia and Turkey.”
After Turkey intervened in northeastern Syria in October 2019, Russia and the US reached separate ceasefire deals with Ankara, which allowed Turkish troops to control the area between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain (Serikaniye).
Despite the agreements, Turkish-backed groups and Turkish army continue to occasionally target areas held by the SDF. In some cases, villagers living in the Syrian-Turkish border areas were killed in attacks by the Turkish army and Turkish-backed rebel forces.
The aftermath of the deadly Turkish drone strike on a civilian residence in the northern Syrian city of Kobani, June 23, 2020. (Photo: Hawar News Agency)
“Zehra Berkel is one of the women who died during the Turkish attacks. She is a coordinating member of the Kongra Star women’s movement,” read the official Twitter account of the women’s rights organization, based in Syrian Kurdistan (Rojava).
“She was struggling or women’s rights. The attack… targeted women. This is another example of Turkey showing its patriarchal face,” the organization said.
According to the local Hawar News Agency (ANHA) the other two victims were Mizgin Xelil and the owner of the house, Amina Waysi.
This was not the first Turkish drone attack in Kobani. On April 28, a previous one targeted a checkpoint of the ISF, though resulted in no casualties or significant damage.
Local officials and Kurdish civilians fear Kobani could still be a target for a possible Turkish attack in the future because the city was a global symbol in the fight against the Islamic State.
“All of the cities at the border are under threats, but particularly when it comes to Kobani, even the Russians tell us from time to time that there is the danger that the Turks will attack you again,” Ilham Ahmed, President of the Executive Committee of the Syrian Democratic Council, said during a May 29 online event organized by the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign.
“So this is something that the Russians inform us of. So, of course there is a fear that Kobani will be attacked.”
QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – Syriac, Assyrian and Arab prominent figures on Wednesday applauded the intra-Kurdish dialogue in Syria stating it would not exclude other communities from ruling the country’s northeast.
“The agreement between the Kurdish National Council in Syria (ENKS) and the [PYD-led]Kurdish National Unity parties is in the interest of the region and solves their political disputes,” Gabriel Moushe, a senior official at the Christian Assyrian Democratic Organization told North Press.
He pointed out that the agreement will not exclude other communities in the area, but rather it solves internal Kurdish political issues.
Moushe also noted that any agreement between the Kurdish factions should take the other communities of northeastern Syria into consideration.
Last week, ENKS and the [PYD-led] Kurdish National Unity parties announced they reached an initial understanding on a political vision for Syria stemming from the 2014 Duhok agreement.
This understanding came after a long-term intensive dialogue on the initiative of Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander-in-chief Mazloum Abdi and with direct American support and sponsorship.
The dispute between the two Kurdish factions, ENKS which is a group of Kurdish political parties affiliated with the Turkish-backed Syrian opposition, and PYD, the main Kurdish party in northeast Syria began after the breakout of the Syrian civil war in 2012.
Arab Communities’ position
Amer Sheikh Halosh, an Arab community leader and lawyer, told North Press, “Kurdish participation in the Syrian political scene is important.”
“The intra-Kurdish talk plays a significant role in founding a future with no conflicts and crises,” he added.
But he further pointed out that the agreement of two Kurdish blocks didn’t contain all Kurdish parties in Syria.
“The Kurdish Democratic Progressive parties, Kurdish Democratic Unity Party in Syria (Yekiti) and many other Kurdish parties,” he said.
Halosh also rejected the accusation that the main Kurdish parties would exclude the other communities from ruling the area.
“Talks that accuse the two parties that their agreement and understanding on specific percentage is at the expense of other communities in the region, are incorrect, and this dialogue is the right policy which Syria needs,” he said. Christian Communities’ stance
Hana Somi, a senior member of the Syriac Union Party, said the talks among the Kurdish political parties would have positive influences on the region.
“[Kurdish talks] are not against Arabs, Syriac or other communities and what is rumoured about power sharing at the expense of the communities are incorrect,” he said.
He added that the intra-Kurdish dialogue will strengthen cooperation and understanding between parties and other Syriac institutions.
Dohuk agreement in 2014 was signed between ENKS and the PYD-led Council, known as TEV-DEM, in the city of Duhok in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. It provided for the formation of a Kurdish political authority in Syria, but it failed due to mutual accusations between the two parties.
(Reporting by Reem Shamoun; Editing by Hisham Arafat)
80-year-old Kurdish man tortured to death in Afrin
The Turkish state and mercenaries continue to target civilians in Afrin. Hardly a day passes without reports of crimes in the occupied territories of North and East Syria.
Thursday, 11 Jun 2020, 16:04
Human Rights Organization- Afrin reported that the dead body of an 80-year-old Kurdish man called Aref Abdo Khalil, alias Aref Khatouneh, was found thrown near Lake Maidanki.
According to reliable local sources the victim had been kidnapped from his home village of Qezilbash, in Afrin’s Bilbile district on June 9. The area is under the sway of notorious Sultan Murad Turkmeni militias of Jaish al Nukhba.
The dead body of the disabled old man, who used to sit in a wheelchair, was found naked bearing traces of torture yesterday morning.
Local sources said that the victim had been kidnapped by Jaish al-Nukhba militiamen who broke into his home and stole his money.
The Turkish state has established a “terror regime” in all the areas it has occupied in North-East Syria. On April 23, the invaders kidnapped Sheikh Inezan, a prominent figure from the Neim tribe, which is among the most important tribes of the region.
On April 4, three civilians were kidnapped and then executed in the area between the villages of Kopirlik and Evdokoy. On the very dame day, a civilian named Sileman Bekre was kidnapped by the invaders in Afrin.
Two days ago, on June 9, eight civilians were kidnapped in the village of Raco, in Mabata by Jabhat al-Shamiya mercenaries who asked for ransom to release those detained.
16-year-old Malak Nabih Khalil was kidnapped by the Sultan Murad Brigade mercenaries on May 23. Her lifeless body has been found near the village of Firiziya in Azaz region on June 5.
Afrin has been under the occupation of the Turkish state and its mercenary allies for over two years now. The attacks of the Turkish state against Afrin began on 20 January 2018 and the invasion of the city was carried out on 18 March 2018. Since the invasion, war crimes have been systematically committed in the region. Almost every day, crimes such as the confiscation of property belonging to local people, kidnapping of civilians for ransom, torture or executions are carried out.
The occupation forces controlled by Ankara use the abductions to extort ransoms. This method has become a lucrative source of income. At least 500 cases of ransom handovers have been reported so far. Turkish-backed militias demand an equivalent of between 3,000 and 100,000 euros, depending on the ability of the victims’ relatives to pay.
Videos circulated on social media in late May showed the evacuation of abducted and imprisoned women prisoners found in an internment camp of the pro-Turkish militia Furqat al-Hamza. A number of Kurdish women, many of them Yazidis, were abducted after the invasion of the city by the Turkish army in spring 2018, and many are still in the prisons of the militias commanded by Turkey, being tortured and sexually abused. Protests against violent attacks on defenceless civilians, especially women, have been ongoing since, demanding urgent action by the international authorities which have remained silent on the Turkish occupation and resulting crimes in the region.
Turkey-linked mercenaries kidnap 11 civilians in Afrin
The Turkish state and mercenaries continue to target civilians in Afrin. Hardly a day passes without reports of crimes in the occupied territories of North and East Syria.
Tuesday, 9 Jun 2020, 11:48
According to local sources 8 civilians have been kidnapped in the village of Raco, in Mabata by Jabhat al-Shamiya mercenaries. The mercenaries said they will release the kidnapped civilians if a ransom is paid. The kidnapped people have been named locally as Elî Hemo, Husên Şêxo, Ezîz Şêxo, Betal Mihemed Şêxo, Heysem Remzî Hecî Hemo, Henîf Arif Şerê, Mihemed Birîm and Henîf Henan.
Sources in the region also told ANHA that eventually two of the kidnapped civilians, Henîf Henan and Mihemed Birîm, were released after ransom was paid while there is no information about the fate of the others.
In addition, a source from the village of Meimila in Mabata, said that many more civilians were abducted by the mercenaries.
Only some of the names of the kidnapped people could be learned: Lawend Umer Simo (20), Mihemed Menan Birîm (32) and Ciwan Şukrî Umer (20).
The occupation forces kidnapped 16-year-old Malak Nabih Khalil by the Sultan Murad Brigade mercenaries on May 23. Her lifeless body has been found near the village of Firiziya in Azaz region two days ago.
According to reports revealed in late May, 11 women who had been abducted in 2018 were subject to brutal torture for two years. The women were hidden from their familes during the mentioned period of time.
The Turkish state has established a “terror regime” in all the areas it has occupied in North-East Syria. On April 23, the invaders kidnapped Sheikh Inezan, a prominent figure from the Neim tribe, which is among the most important tribes of the region.
On April 4, three civilians were kidnapped and then executed in the area between the villages of Kopirlik and Evdokoy. On the very dame day, a civilian named Sileman Bekre was kidnapped by the invaders in Afrin.
Afrin has been under the occupation of the Turkish state and its mercenary allies for over two years now. The attacks of the Turkish state against Afrin began on 20 January 2018 and the invasion of the city was carried out on 18 March 2018. Since the invasion, war crimes have been systematically committed in the region. Almost every day, crimes such as the confiscation of property belonging to local people, kidnapping of civilians for ransom, torture or executions are carried out.
The occupation forces controlled by Ankara use the abductions to extort ransoms. This method has become a lucrative source of income. At least 500 cases of ransom handovers have been reported so far. Turkish-backed militias demand an equivalent of between 3,000 and 100,000 euros, depending on the ability of the victims’ relatives to pay.
Water as a weapon of war
2 June 2020
Turkey is restricting access to a vital life source for thousands of people in northeast Syria. A new crowdfunder is raising money for water infrastructure in the region, writes Jo Taylor from the campaign.
In an area of northern Syria, already struck by desertification which has been dramatically intensified by the global climate crisis, water is being used as a weapon of war.
For the past eight years the region commonly known by its Kurdish name of Rojava has been experimenting with building up an ecological and feminist system of self-governance. In this system, ordinary people make decisions about how their towns and neighbourhoods are run and women’s freedom is considered fundamental.
Turkey invaded Rojava in October 2019 after Trump announced US military withdrawal from the region. Turkish forces bombed the main water station on the first day of the invasion of Serekaniye (a city whose name, in Kurdish, means ‘fountainhead’, or ‘water source’) and surrounding towns and villages. Since then, the water has been shut-off on five further occasions, denying more than 650,000 people of access to water, just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
Since the subsequent invasion and occupation of Serekaniye and Tel Abyad in late 2019, water is now being weaponized and water infrastructure targeted as never before
In addition to this, Turkey has dammed the rivers which flow from Turkey into Syria and Iraq, detaining water inside its own borders, causing a big reduction in the flow of water to the wider region – by an estimated 80 per cent to Iraq and by around 40 per cent to Syria.
In response to the ongoing crisis, UK-based co-operative the Solidarity Economy Association (SEA) has come together with a number of other international organizations and women’s structures in Rojava to launch a big crowdfunding campaign for water infrastructure and women’s co-operatives in the region. It aims to raise £100,000 ($123,463).
The #Water4Rojava crowdfunding campaign launched on 16 May and reached £25,000 ($30,865) in the first week. The campaign is also being match funded up to the first £50,000 and is being supported by well-known figures, including British actress Maxine Peak, David Graeber, Debbie Bookchin, Janet Biehl and world-renowned photographer Joey Lawrence.
‘Most of the water sources in the region were in Serekaniye and we lost them with the invasion,’ explains Heval Armanc from Aborîya Jin (Women’s Economy) – an autonomous women’s economic body in northeast Syria.
‘We have been struggling a lot more since we lost access to the water resources. We have some women’s economy projects, like our project in Derîk (another city in Rojava), where we are digging wells, planting trees and building houses. With all that we do, we are mindful about nature and not to cause any harm.’
Aborîya Jin’s main role is to help women set up and run projects like agriculture and textile co-operatives, and communal living projects with collective livelihoods. ‘If we are working alone, those projects will move very slowly, but with support the project can be very successful, that’s why the Water for Rojava campaign is very important. Access to water is even more vital now with the global pandemic – you need water to be clean and safe,’ says Armanc.
Turkey controls 90 per cent of the waterflow of the Euphrates, and around 44 per cent of the Tigris, the two main rivers of the region. Since 1992, the government has built 22 major dams which hold back the headwaters of these two great rivers.
Within Turkey’s borders, hundreds of towns and villages have been submerged and (mostly Kurdish) residents forced into cities and away from traditional ways of life. Downstream in Iraq, regions such as the ecologically and culturally unique Mesopotamian Marshes and the Marsh Arabs who depend on them for subsistence are also at threat of extinction.
In Syria, Turkey has been directly at war with the predominantly Kurdish population of the northern regions since its invasion and continued occupation of Afrin in early 2018. This is now escalating since the subsequent invasion and occupation of Serekaniye and Tel Abyad in late 2019, and water is now being weaponized and water infrastructure targeted as never before.
The local Directorate of Water, the citizen-led municipalities, the Women’s Economy, local charities and NGOs, all have plans for alternative measures to provide water, but pressures such as an economic embargo on the region and food insecurity caused by the depleted water supply, climate change and the ongoing conflict, mean that there are not enough funds to go ahead with all the projects. That’s where #Water4Rojava can help.
SOHR: ISIS battalion from Iraq works for Turkish intelligence
SOHR reported that an Iraqi battalion of ISIS members working for “Ahrar Al-Sharqiayyah” and Turkish intelligence.
Monday, 8 Jun 2020, 08:51
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that a battalion which comprises tens of ISIS members operates under the banner of “Ahrar Al-Sharqiyyah” and consists of nearly 40 Iraqi fighters, works for the Turkish intelligence.
According to SOHR sources, the battalion works in northern Syria with a task of carrying out executions and detonations. In addition, they are tasked with spy on ISIS foreign members who try to flee to the Turkish territory and the undercover members in Aleppo countryside, so that the battalion can arrest them. Some of those arrested ISIS members were imprisoned or executed, while others were taken to Turkey in return for large sums of money. Reliable SOHR sources confirmed that those members in prisons have been compromised in order to be sent to fight in Libya.
The Observatory said: “The headquarters of the battalion, which is led by a person known as (Abu Waqqas Al-Iraqi), is in Al-Bab city in north-eastern Aleppo. A notorious prison belonging to the battalion is also located in the area. It is worth noting that Al-Iraqi used to travel comfortably between Turkey and Aleppo countryside. Al-Iraqi appeared in a picture taken in the Turkish state of Urfah documenting his meeting with Abu Osama Al-Tayanah, an ISIS commander.”
Reliable sources have informed SOHR that Abu Waqqas has been laying low for nearly two months, while it is not known whether he has been involved in military operations in Libya on the side of the “Government of National Accord”, or travelled to Egypt with large sums of money in his possession, like Abu Hudhayfah Al-Hamawi did. Abu Hudhayfah, a former commander in “Ahrar Al-Sham”, fled to Egypt after stealing large sums of money from “Ahrar Al-Sharqiyah” when the formation was established and joined “Ahrar Al-Sham movement” at that time.
“The Iraqi battalion recently transported prisoners from its prison in Al-Bab to Idlib city, where a commander in Hayyaat Tahrir Al-Sham known as (Abu Ali Al-Iraqi) has received them. It is worth noting that (Belal Al-Shawashi Al-Tunsi, Abu Al-Waleed Al-Tunsi and Abu Osama Al-Iraqi) as well as other Egyptians were among the prisoners who have been transported to Idlib. All of these prisoners who have been taken to Idlib are ISIS commanders. The battalion also established another headquarters recently in Al-Bab city,” SOHR sources added.
“Moreover, the Iraqi battalion used to bury people it killed in a mass grave on the outskirts of Susanbat village on the road between Al-Bab and Al-Ra’i in the north-eastern countryside of Aleppo. SOHR has obtained information about the fact that this battalion has killed nearly 300 civilians, combatants and ISIS members buried in the battalion’s mass grave in Aleppo.”
SOHR state that, on January 16, 2020, Thabet Al-Hwaysh, a security official in Ahrar Al-Sharqiyyah, was killed in a car-bomb explosion in Siluk town in northern Al-Raqqah. Al-Hwaysh was the one responsible for transferring money to Abu Waqqas Al-Iraqi from Al-Bab city to Turkey, during the period when Abu Waqqas was in Turkey.
Assyrian villages in the Khabur valley under constant attack
Of the 20,000 Assyrians who were living in the Khabur valley in northeast Syria before the war began in 2011, only about 1,000 remain today. Madeleine Khamis, commander of the “Khabur Guards”, fears that even the last Assyrians will be forced into exile.
Tuesday, 26 May 2020, 13:36
According to Madeleine Khamis, commander of the Assyrian combat unit “Khabur Guards”, the Christian inhabitants of the Khabur valley cannot return to their homeland in the long run. As long as their settlement areas in northeast Syria are threatened by the Turkish army and its Islamist allies, the last members of the Assyrian community will probably be forced into exile, Khamis fears.
Programmes and projects to promote the return of displaced persons and their reintegration had to be put on hold due to the war of aggression launched last October by NATO member Turkey and its proxy invasion troops, the so-called “Syrian National Army” (SNA) – an association of extremist FSA militias, members of the “Al-Nusra Front”, Turkmen groups and other jihadist factions from the largely Turkish-held Idlib province.
After the liberation of Til Temir (Tal Tamr), the Khabur guards, together with Christian organizations, had succeeded in bringing exiled Assyrians back into the country. Now that the Khabur valley is in Turkey’s sights, no one believes that the return projects will be resumed soon. Time and again, the region is at the centre of invasion attacks to integrate it into the illegal occupation zone.
20,000 Christian population before the war in Til Temir
The Khabur river extends along the Khabur valley in the northeast of Syria. Here, where the town of Til Temir (Kurdish name: Girê Xurma), a reflection of the population mosaic of Syria, is located, the Nestorians – Assyrians from (Hakkari – who had fled to northern Iraq during the genocide of Christians in the Ottoman Empire between 1914 and 1918, settled in 1933. The League of Nations in Geneva awarded them the settlement area. Their second exodus was preceded by the Simele massacre: some 9000 Assyrians, mainly men and young people, were murdered in various villages in the Duhok region. The village of Simele, which was particularly affected, gave its name to this genocide. There, under the leadership of the Iraqi military, some 350 people died.
The Assyrians from Hakkari founded 33 villages in the flat valley of the Khabur, while Chaldean Christians settled in another three villages. Before the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, about 20,000 Assyrian Christians were still living here, in almost every village there was a church. Now there are not even 1,000 people left. Because of the jihadists almost all inhabitants fled abroad, most went to Canada, Australia or the US. Some of the villages are completely empty, those who stayed are mostly elderly people. Also, several hundred internally displaced persons from other regions of the country now live in Til Temir.
Most of the inhabitants of Til Temir had already fled towards the end of 2012, when mercenaries of the “Free Syrian Army” (FSA) shifted their attacks on Christians in the west and east to the northern regions and threatened to invade the city. Throughout the year there were repeated massacres, attacks and kidnappings in Homs, Damascus and Deir ez-Zor. Tn time the circle of perpetrators expanded to almost all armed jihadist militias, above all the “Al-Nusra Front”. Churches were desecrated and bombed, Christian villages systematically attacked and depopulated, religious dignitaries kidnapped and murdered. Starting in the second half of 2013, the name “Islamic State” (IS) was used more often in connection with crimes against Syrian Christians, especially around the Khabur valley. When the IS took control over more and more roads in the immediate vicinity of Til Temir, migration increased again.
In 2015, the escalation of terror in the Khabur Valley reached a new level when, in the early morning of February 23, the IS overran the western bank with 40 SUVs, took 12 Assyrian villages on the west side of the river and set fire to the churches. Some 4,000 people who wanted to seek shelter in Tur Abdin – the “Mountain of God’s servants” and heartland of the Syriacs – but were not allowed through by Turkey, managed to escape to Qamishlo and Hesekê. Others went abroad. Those who did not make it in time fell into the hands of the IS. According to various reports, the number of those kidnapped ranged from 262 to 373 and a ransom in the tens of millions was demanded for their release. In June 2015, Til Temir, the nearby Mount Kizwan (Abdulaziz) and the surrounding area were liberated by the YPG/YPJ and Christian fighting groups that had been formed after the outbreak of the Syrian war. Among the martyrs of the city was Ivana Hoffmann from Duisburg. She died on 7 March 2015 bearing the name of “Avaşîn Têkoşin Güneş” in the ranks of struggle and is considered the first internationalist to die in the armed struggle against the IS.
Assyrian Church in Til Temir
Khamis: Turkey is a colonial state
“There are absolutely no differences in the mentality of the Islamists and the Turkish state. When the jihadists invaded the Khabur valley a few years ago, our churches and other holy sites were the first target. This scenario has been repeated during the recent invasion. So far, six of our churches have been razed to the ground by Turkish combat drones. Others were largely damaged,” says Madeleine Khamis.
The commander, who is also a member of the Military Council of the Khabur Guards, calls Turkey a “colonial state”, which, according to the principle of divide et impera – divide and rule- has pursued and is constantly refining its old strategy of dividing territories, dividing the population and confusing the social structure. The same scenario as in Hatay 1938 is wanted to be implemented in the entire border strip as part of the neo-Ottoman expansion plans, says Khamis.
“Turkey wants to expand its borders by dividing and annexing parts of Northern Syria. The Assyrians accept the Turkish state neither in their settlement area nor in other parts of north-eastern Syria. Because the Turkish threat is an existential threat,” Khamis continues.
Genocidal violence against Assyrians and other Christian and ethnic groups is a common thread running through the history of the Turkish state and the Ottoman Empire, of which Turkey is the successor. When more than 1.5 million Armenians became victims of genocide under the responsibility of the young Turkish government during the First World War, pogroms, deportations and massacres also killed about 500,000 Syriacs, 300,000 of them Assyrians, and members of other ethnic groups who did not fit into the nation understanding of the “Turkish-Islamic synthesis”. The historian Joseph Yacoub, who was born in Hesekê, describes the genocide of the Syriacs as “hidden genocide”, since science has paid little attention to this event.
Church damaged during attacks
We are the descendants of survivors
“We in the Khabur Valley are the descendants of survivors of these events. Turkey, on the other hand, has always been an aggressor, destroying the civilizing heritage of the Christian settlement areas,” says Khamis. The Turkish state has not contributed to anything apart from its own ethnic nationalism and the resulting destruction, she says and adds: “Even today, it is attacking our regions and exporting Islamist terror to northeast Syria to wipe us out. As long as silence continues to reign, as long as the Turkish government’s actions are approved by the international community, as long as the outcry continues to fail, even the last Assyrian will leave the region. No one will be able to return home.”
Turkish forces and opposition groups destroy nine Yazidi shrines in Afrin
Destruction of the dome of Sheikh Ali shrine in the village of Basoufan, southern Afrin
On Sunday, co-chair of the Legislative Council of Afrin region, Suleiman Jaafar, said that the number of Yazidi shrines that have been destroyed by Turkish forces and their affiliated armed opposition groups has reached nine so far.
Jaafar, a Yazidi from the village of Basoufan in the Sherawa district, southern Afrin, said to North Press that members of the Turkish-backed armed opposition groups destroyed the dome of Sheikh Ali shrine in the village of Basoufan two days ago, making the number of the shrines destroyed by them nine.
He noted that members of the Turkish-backed armed opposition groups “dug up the shrine, which dates back to the first century AD, and opened the tomb of Sheikh Ali in search of gold and treasures, and now, the dome is destroyed.”
Human Rights Organization – Afrin, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, confirmed on Saturday that militants of the Failaq al-Sham group, along with settlers residing in Basoufan village, destroyed parts of the dome of Sheikh Ali shrine using a bulldozer amid high voices shouting “Allah Akbar”, describing the shrine as a place for atheists and infidels.
Jaafar indicated that the shrines, which were destroyed by Turkish forces and their affiliated armed opposition groups in Afrin region are Sheikh Barakat shrine on top of the Sheikh Mount southern Simeon Castle, Sheikh Hamid and Parsa Khatoun in Qastal-Jendo village in Sharra district, the shrine of Sinka village and Qara-Jorn shrine near Midanki in Sharra district, Malak-Adi shrine in Qibar village, Sheikh Jneid shrine in Faqira village in Jinderis district, Seikh Rakab shrine in Shadeiry village, and Sheikh Ali shrine in Basoufan.
For his part, Zinar Jaafar, a journalist from the village of Basoufan, said: “The Turkish army and its affiliated armed groups are taking up position in the village of Basoufan, which means that they are aware of what is happening, as there are plans to eliminate Yazidis in Afrin.”
Yazidis in Afrin are distributed in 22 villages, but there are no accurate statistics about their number in Syria, while according to a previous report issued by the Human Rights Organization – Afrin, the number of the Yazidis is about 25,000.
The number of Yazidi shrines in Afrin exceeds 18, most of which have been subjected to destruction and demolition in addition to the theft of their property.
Coronavirus in Rojava: Facing a Pandemic Without a State
by Thomas McClure
Across the world, states are coming under pressure for their response to the coronavirus crisis. Some fail to adequately protect their citizens, some use Covid-19 as an excuse for authoritarian power-grabs, and some do both simultaneously.
Here in North and East Syria, the autonomous region more commonly known as Rojava, 4m Syrians – Kurds, Arabs, Christians – live outside the limited protection and authoritarian control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Their stated aim is to build a new form of communal politics, outside the state. Consequently, the autonomous region faces isolation, embargo and the severing of aid on behalf of state powers unwilling to see their project succeed, leaving it searching for solutions outside those the United Nations and World Health Organization can offer.
Nine years of war, systematic targeting of health and water infrastructure by occupying Turkish forces, a lack of international recognition, and January’s closure of the only UN aid crossing into North and East Syria have left the region at extreme risk from coronavirus. With the WHO refusing to support it directly, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) is reliant on its own meagre resources and aid routed via the Assad government, little of which ever arrives to the north-east.
The humanitarian situation is dire across Syria, and the north-east is no exception. 1.6m people are in need of humanitarian assistance, including 600,000 internally displaced people. Local doctors are modelling a 10% death-rate in both the detention centers containing Isis fighters and the refugee camps – some containing Isis-linked families, others housing hundreds of thousands of Kurds displaced by successive Turkish invasions, as well as Arabs who have fled to the relative security of the north-east throughout the nine-year conflict.
The region’s 4m residents are reliant on a total capacity of just 40 ventilators and 35 ICU beds. Nine of the 11 public hospitals in North and East Syria have been damaged during the war, while a recent London School of Economics study found the regions under the AANES have the capability to handle just 460 coronavirus cases before being overrun.
The only way to accurately test for coronavirus is with polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test machines. The only PCR machines in North and East Syria were lost in October 2019, when Turkey invaded the Kurdish-majority city of Serê Kaniyê. The hospital was shelled and then seized as part of the operation, leaving it inaccessible and inoperable.
The WHO had required North and East Syria to send all test samples to the Syrian capital, Damascus, but neither the WHO nor the Syrian government were facilitating the process. On 2 April, testing in Damascus confirmed a case of Covid-19 that, the same day, gave the North and East Syria its first coronavirus death, yet both the Syrian government and WHO failed to communicate this information to the AANES until two weeks had elapsed, putting medical staff in danger and meaning health officials in the region could not take adequate precautions.
Via Turkey, the WHO has now provided test kits to Idlib, a city controlled by al-Qaeda offshoot Hayat Tahrir-al-Sham (HTS), from where samples can be sent to Turkey for testing. It has also provided 1200 testing kits to regime-controlled areas. Due to its lack of recognised status, however, North and East Syria has no access to WHO-provided testing kits. With support from the Kurdistan regional government in Iraq, the AANES was finally able to privately acquire five PCR machines, and together with front-line tests like white blood cell tests and temperature checks, the AANES is now able to run a basic testing programme rather than relying solely on Damascus.
UN aid severed.
The WHO’s parent organisation, the UN, is beholden to the powerful states sitting on its security council. In January 2020, Russia – whose support for the Damascus regime means it refuses to countenance autonomy in the north-east – exercised its security council veto to close the only UN aid crossing into North and East Syria
This means all UN aid into Syria is now sent either into areas controlled by HTS, to factions under the control of the Turkish intelligence service, or directly to the Assad regime. The AANES is forced to try to access UN aid via Damascus, but the reality is that most aid sent to Damascus remains in areas loyal to the regime. Little to nothing ever arrives in the north-east.
One sole 20-tonne aid delivery via Damascus did make it to North and East Syria – but per WHO guidance, 89% of the delivery remained in a regime-controlled pocket in Qamishlo. The limited aid supplied to the AANES was made up of infant incubators and other supplies not related to coronavirus, with one doctor telling the Rojava Information Center that the supplies were “essentially useless”. Similarly, under Turkish pressure the Iraqi Kurdish regional government has also been preventing the purchase and transfer of coronavirus supplies into North and East Syria.
A recent report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs indicated this decision will seriously reduce North and East Syria’s ability to combat coronavirus. Seven health centres in Raqqa are facing severe shortages of medicines and supplies as a direct result of the decision, with one soon to close, while the health centre in the Hol camp is also severely affected.
Turkish attacks on water.
While the regime obstructs aid from the south, Turkey applies pressure from the north. Turkey’s 2019 invasion of Serê Kaniyê and Tell Abyad was marked by shelling and airstrikes targeting health points and clinics, resulting in the loss of two key hospitals as Turkey seized control of AANES territory.
It also allowed Turkey to take control of the Allouk water station. Allouk is a critical piece of infrastructure, providing drinking water to between 650,000 and 1m+ people, including 65,000 internally displaced people and Isis-linked individuals in the Hol camp; internally displaced people in the Washokani and Aresha camps and ad-hoc settlements, including 80 schools in Hasekah; the largest detention facility for captured Isis fighters in the world, housing some 5000 combatants and the scene of a recent uprising; and the AANES’s main quarantine hospital.
Turkey launched an airstrike against Allouk on day one of its invasion, putting it out of service. Now Turkey is in control of the water station, and although it has since been fixed under international mediation, Turkey has nonetheless cut the water flow to AANES areas five times in the last month, each time demanding the AANES send more and more electricity into (and pay for repairs in) the areas Turkey occupied in 2019. As the occupying power, Turkey is responsible for electricity provision in Serê Kaniyê under international law, and moreover it is demanding far more power than is proportional to its needs. Most recently, on 2 April Turkish forces shelled the water pipe from Allouk to Hasekah, cutting off water for the fifth time.
Solutions outside the state.
With Russia, Turkey and the Damascus government all piling pressure on the autonomous regions, aided and abetted by the WHO and UN, the north-east is forced to pursue alternative solutions. On the one hand, its political demands are clear: direct provision of WHO test kits and other supplies, re-opening of Yaroubiah aid crossing, an end to Turkey’s manipulation of the water flow, and in the long term recognition of the north-east’s autonomy as part of a federal, democratic Syria.
In the short term, however, the region is once again forced to rely on its own strained resources. Multiple medical projects are underway to develop DIY, locally-produced ventilators as a solution to the chronic shortages in this field; aid is being distributed on a family-by-family basis via the local communes which form the building blocks of the grassroots democratic system.
If the AANES’s vision of a federal Syria is realised, it will be a chance to spread these ideas in a world newly awakened to the need for local, communal living. For now, the administration must rely on these war-tested ideals as its best hope of keeping the population alive through the pandemic crisis.
Thomas McClure is a researcher at the Rojava Information Center.
This article is part two of a two-part feature on the current situation in North and East Syria. Read part one here.
Published 4th May 2020
UN, WHO work with Assad to starve eastern Syria of aid during pandemic
The World Health Organization has also stopped supporting eastern Syria, an area of millions of people who are recovering from ISIS atrocities.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, wearing face masks as protection against the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), meet in Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on April 20, 2020
(photo credit: SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
International organizations partnering with the Syrian regime are cutting off aid to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Syria during the global pandemic.
A recent report at Foreign Policy noted that the “United Nations informed its relief agencies several weeks ago that they were permitted to fund private charities operating in northeastern Syria only if they were registered in Damascus and authorized to work there by the Syrian government, which has proved unwilling, or unable, to meet the region’s health needs.”
This gives the Syrian regime a veto over aid to eastern Syria and a way to use it as a weapon. Turkey and Russia collaborated in the effort, as Turkey turns off water to 460,000 people in eastern Syria, and Russia supports the Syrian regime. The report indicates how dictatorships and regimes that abuse human rights come first at controlling UN and international aid, enabling them to use it only for charities linked to them and using it to empower loyalists and sideline others.
The World Health Organization has also stopped supporting eastern Syria, an area of millions of people who are recovering from ISIS atrocities, as the WHO also works through the Syrian regime rather than providing equal access to people on the ground in a Syria divided by conflict. It now turns out that people of eastern Syria are being increasingly isolated by great powers who want them to stop working with the US and either be controlled by Turkey or by the Russian-backed Assad regime.
The report notes that the UN Security Council, “acting under pressure from Russia, shut down a UN-sanctioned humanitarian aid hub on January 10 at the Yaroubia crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border. That deprived the UN of an explicit legal mandate to serve in the region.” The crossing was used by the WHO and private groups, “delivering medical assistance into northeastern Syria.”
THE LARGER context is that Russia, Iran and Turkey want the US to leave eastern Syria. the people in eastern Syria are the victims because the local authorities were supported by America to fight ISIS. The local authorities are called the Syrian Democratic Forces and various civilian autonomous councils linked to them. The Syrian regime wants the SDF to be disbanded and become part of the Syrian regime’s forces.
Russia and Iran want the US to leave eastern Syria. Turkey, which works closely with Russia and Iran, also wants the US-backed SDF to leave; it invaded part of eastern Syria last year, sending extremist groups to attack civilians.
The pandemic has made matters worse. Desperate for medical support, the local authorities have complained that the WHO didn’t even inform them that a man who became sick in March in Qamishli had COVID-19. The organization reportedly informed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), but it took another week to even tell the local authorities, because the UN only speaks to the Syrian regime in Damascus. Local authorities in Qamishli and Hasakah complained in a Voice of America report that the regime is concealing the number of coronavirus cases in eastern Syria and also allowing travel, despite attempts at lockdowns.
On May 7, Turkey and the extremists it backs in northern Syria cut off water to 460,000 people in eastern Syria. Turkey and the Syrian regime agree on trying to impose suffering on locals, isolate them and make sure they receive no aid.
THE WAY the UN works makes it so that no one who is not loyal to the Syrian regime receives aid in Syria. For instance, the UN’s World Food Programme conducted air drops to the Syrian-regime-run city off Deir Ezzor when it was under siege by ISIS between 2015 and 2017. The program conducted 309 airdrops at a cost of $37 million a year, according to its website. The assistance helped 200,000 people. But there were no UN-supported air drops for people in Raqqa, Qamishli, Kobane or Idlib, or in refugee camps or areas outside Syrian regime control.
The recent Foreign Policy report indicates that OCHA did ask the UN Office of Legal Affairs to look into the legality of providing relief to people who the Syrian regime didn’t want relief to go to. The experts “concluded that the UN could only fund agencies registered and approved by the Syrian government.” This means the government of Syria can decide who gets aid and can discriminate against those it doesn’t like, including for political, ethnic or religious reasons. That would appear to run contrary to all the lip service the UN and its various organizations pay to human rights and access to health care.
But the reality as it plays out in eastern Syria shows that even during a global pandemic, authoritarian regimes always come first, even if they can’t provide for their own people or don’t control most of their country. For similar reasons, people in Libya, Yemen and parts of Somalia receive no support during the pandemic.
THE SYRIAN regime has blocked aid going to eastern Syria unless local authorities will make sure it only goes to areas the regime wants. That has included blocking delivery of supplies by road from Damascus and making sure any aid flights to the regime-run airport in Qamishli are managed by the regime. The cut-off of aid is designed to isolate areas in eastern Syria and bring them to the bargaining table. The US had already walked away from some of these areas in October 2019, enabling a Turkish invasion and the rapid movement of Russia and Syrian regime forces to parts of northeast Syria.
US envoy James Jeffrey indicated in December 2018 that the SDF would need to work with Damascus and the regime, saying the US has no permanent relationship with non-state actors like the SDF. The US view of the SDF is temporary, tactical and transactional. The transaction today includes the SDF continuing to fight ISIS while the US secures oil fields near the Euphrates River to block Iran’s presence. The US calls this the Eastern Syria Stabilization Area.
As part of the transaction, US anti-ISIS envoy Jeffrey wants the SDF to continue to be subcontractors holding thousands of ISIS detainees. There was even some talk of having the UN support a coronavirus facility at Al-Hol camp where some families of ISIS detainees live, alongside other internally displaces Syrians. But that plan was also scuttled. Civilians who suffered under or even fought ISIS in eastern Syria will get no aid from the WHO or UN.
The US anti-ISIS coalition has tried to do what it can to help in eastern Syria. Under CENTCOM’s leadership, which is sympathetic to the people of eastern Syria and helping them in stabilization efforts after ISIS, some limited support has been delivered, including a multi-year electricity infrastructure effort. Had the area of Raqqa and other towns that once suffered under ISIS waited for the UN, they would still be in darkness.
April saw a 16% decrease in ISIS sleeper-cell attacks (48 to 40), whereas joint SDF and Coalition raids increased 100% this month (11 up to 22). Despite this increase, the rate of raids has consistently remained lower than the rates we were seeing prior to the war
Cells continue to specifically target individuals connected to the Autonomous Administration or SDF. Fatalities in general increased 21% this month, with 41% of these deaths being assassinations
In a new development, two attacks were claimed by Ahrar-al-Sharqiya, a Turkish-backed faction forming part of the Syrian National Army (SNA). Both of the attacks took place in Ain Issa
The 30km-deep ‘safe zone’ along the border with Turkey has remained untouched by sleeper-cell attacks
40 confirmed attacks took place in April, a 16% decrease from May (48 down to 40). 73% or 29 attacks were claimed by ISIS, leaving nine unclaimed and two attacks claimed by the SNA, as mentioned above.
RIC documented a total of 29 deaths in April, a 21% increase from March (24 up to 29). 41% of these deaths were assassinations specifically targeting village elders (Muhktars), or people claimed to be associated with the Autonomous Administration or SDF. In total 12 assassinations took place. This occurred after ISIS pamphlets were seen distributed throughout Deir-ez-Zor, threatening individuals connected to the Administration. At least 20 people were also documented as have being wounded, but not fatally, in April.
The rate of raids doubled this month (11 up to 22), but still remain lower than the rates we were seeing prior to the latest Turkish operation. 52 arrests have been documented, and three individuals operating with sleeper-cells were killed.
As throughout 2020, sleeper-cells have not targeted cities along the border with Turkey in the 30km-deep ‘safe zone’ (from Derik through to Dirbesiye and around Kobane). 75% of attacks occurred in Deir-ez-Zor, 15% in Heseke, 8% in Raqqa and 2.5% in Manbij.
In keeping with previous months’ trends sleeper-cell groups have continued to focus their energy on IEDs, attacks using small arms, and occasionally grenades – mostly with the purpose of direct elimination of an individual connected to the Autonomous Administration or SDF. There was also one instance of ISIS exploding an oil pipeline in the Heseke region.
Comment from Robin Fleming, a researcher with the Rojava Information Center:
“Unusually, two attacks this April were claimed by the Syrian National Army, specifically the Turkish proxy group Ahrar-al-Sharqiya. This group fought under Turkish command and control during operation Peace Spring, and infamously took the life of Hevrin Khalef, Secretary-General of the Syria’s Future Party and leading female Kurdish politician. These attacks show that following the Turkish invasion, these proxy groups still have a presence in NES outside of the occupied zones, and are still endangering the stability of the region.
Following a recent ISIS campaign distributing pamphlets throughout Deir-ez-Zor, threatening the lives of all those who associate themselves with the Autonomous Administration in any capacity, we saw the rate of both overall fatalities and specific assassinations rise. All of this indicates an ongoing evolution in ISIS’ tactics. It is no longer attempting merely to wreak havoc and claim as many lives as possible. Now instead ISIS is surgically targeting individuals connected to the Administration and SDF, using whatever
The water level of the Euphrates river has decreased by 60% in the past two weeks. This was due to the Turkish state reducing the flow of the river.
Wednesday, 13 May 2020, 12:05
Closing the part of the river that flows into the Syrian side, the Turkish state has greatly reduced the amount of water entering the country thus causing serious problems to both agriculture in the north of the country and electric supply to vital areas and facilities.
Under a prior agreement between Syria and Turkey, Syria was receiving 500 cubic meters of water per second. But Turkey is now using water as a threat and pressure way. In the summer of 2017, it decreased the flow to 100 cubic meters per second, and this year the flow of the river did not exceed 200 cubic meters per second.
In order to produce electricity, the flow rate of the river must be at least 300 cubic meters per second. A 300-cubic meter flow can operate a 105-megawatt turbine.
There are 3 dams on the Euphrates River, which run for about 600 km in Syrian territory. Rojava (Tişrîn) Dam located in Manbij is the biggest dam in Syria.
There are six dams in the Turkish side of the Euphrates river, with Ataturk Dam being the second biggest dam of its kind in the Middle East. This dam has the capacity to store approximately 48 billion cubic meters of water.
Reducing the water level of the Euphrates River is a threat for millions of Syrians in the northeast of the country. It affects drinking water as well as electricity supply. Indeed in the past week there has been repeated interruption of electricity in northeast Syria. In addition, reduction in water is a problem for agriculture
51 bodies recovered from a mass grave in Raqqa
Bodies of 51 people murdered by ISIS have been unearthed from a mass grave in Raqqa.
Monday, 4 May 2020, 18:51
51 corpses have been recovered from a mass grave in the region of Til Zedan east of Raqqa city.
Yasır Hamis from Raqqa Emergency Response Teams said that the mass grave in Til Zedan area, located between al-Samra and Hamrat villages, contains at least 200 corpses. He told that remains of 51 people have been recovered so far and their work continues.
Hamis pointed out that this mass grave was more sensitive in comparison to the mass graves in other parts of Raqqa as victims were piled up over each other in this one. He noted that they were working with utmost sensitivity to make sure that bones are not mingled.
According to Hamis, the digging might take a long time as three corpses are exhumed each day.
He added that the remains in the mass grave belong to civilians aged between 25 and 35 who were murdered by ISIS mercenaries during their bloody reign in the city.
Raqqa was the city ISIS jihadists proclaimed the capital of their so-called caliphate. It is also one of the cities which suffered most and witnessed inhuman massacres, beheading, violence difficult to express with words.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces liberated the Raqqa city on 20 October 2017. Since then the city has begun to rebuild itself. Some 85% of the city and its infrastructures had been destroyed by ISIS, yet the deepest destruction had to do with life itself. Some of the survivors of the dark years of the Caliphate say that life stopped during those times.
Yet, life prevailed. And the newly declared Autonomous Administration has been working since the liberation of the city to rebuild it.
Within the scope of the coordinated activities of the Raqqa Civil Assembly and the People’s Municipality, roads were re-opened, houses and water were started to be supplied to the neighborhoods and the war debris removed.
With the reconstruction of the city and the development of a free and common way of living, 700,000 people who had fled ISIS have returned to their homes.
With the increase of the population, the reconstruction works accelerated. The People’s Municipality of Raqqa announced an amnesty for those who had repaired their destroyed houses without permission and offered assistance to put the houses at norm.
Attacks on northern Syria continue unabated
The Turkish and Jihadist occupation forces continue their attacks against northern Syria enjoying a worldwide silence on their ongoing offensive seeking to invade the region in violation of international law.
ANF NEWS DESK
Sunday, 3 May 2020, 11:49
The Turkish state is systematically bombing civilian settlements in North-East Syria/Rojava on daily basis. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to leave their homes, while hundreds of civilians have lost their lives since the invasion attacks that began on 9 October 2019.
The occupant Turkish army and allied mercenaries have launched a wave of attacks on villages in Afrin’s Shera and Sherawa districts Sunday morning.
The attacks with heavy weapons have targeted the villages of Malikiya, Shiwarxa, Meranaz, Kafr Antun and Irshadiya in Shera, and the villages of Bene, Darjimal and Soxaneke in Sherawa.
On Saturday evening the occupation forces shelled the village of Xirbitbeqir near Gire Spi (Tal Abyad). No information was immediately available about the results of the attacks on the inhabited villages.
The attacks by Turkey and its jihadist aid troops in northern Syria have not abated, even in times of the coronavirus pandemic, and are mainly directed at residential areas and civil infrastructure. While civilian population suffers casualties, the power and water supply has collapsed in large parts of north-east Syria due to the targeted artillery attacks.
As part of worldwide measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire on 23 March and called on the parties to the conflict to cease hostilities, saying; “End the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging our world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives. Silence the guns; stop the artillery; end the airstrikes. This is crucial.”
In Syria, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) responded by declaring that they would follow the UN appeal in the autonomous region and calling on all other parties to the conflict to immediately observe a humanitarian ceasefire. But so far the other warring parties have ignored this outstretched hand.
Turkey is using the Corona pandemic to expand its zone of occupation in the midst of the crisis. Despite warnings that a Covid-19 outbreak in Syria would pose a deadly threat to 6.5 million internally displaced persons suffering the effects of nine years of war, and a renewed appeal by the UN that a cessation of fighting could help create the conditions for the provision of life-saving aid, Northern and Syria continue to be under attack.
In the cities of Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Girê Spî (Tal Abyad), which have been included in the Turkish occupation zone in North-East Syria since October 2019, and in the self-governing areas along the Turkish-Syrian border, significant military activities of Turkey’s jihadist proxy army (“Syrian National Army”, SNA) are taking place.
Afrin has been under the occupation of the Turkish state and its mercenary allies for over two years now. The attacks of the Turkish state against Afrin began on 20 January 2018 and the invasion of the city was carried out on 18 March 2018. Since the invasion, war crimes have been systematically committed in the region. Almost every day, crimes such as the confiscation of property belonging to local people, kidnapping of civilians for ransom, torture or executions are carried out.
The occupation forces controlled by Ankara use the abductions to extort ransoms. This method has become a lucrative source of income. At least 500 cases of ransom handovers have been reported so far. Turkish-backed militias demand an equivalent of between 3,000 and 100,000 euros, depending on the ability of the victims’ relatives to pay.
UN: War crimes and torture in Afrin
Last autumn, the UN Human Rights Council published a report on the situation in Syria, which also describes the devastating human rights situation in Afrin. The Council documented that the overall security conditions in Afrin and adjacent districts remained dire with armed factions having carved up the province into geographic zones of influence.
“As a result there is a general absence of rule of law and repeated incidents of kidnappings, torture, extortion and assassination. Victims were often of Kurdish origin as well as civilians perceived as being prosperous, including doctors, businessmen and merchants,” said the report
Syrian Kurdish parties resume talks, in secret
Rival Kurdish parties in northeastern Syria have began US-sponsored reconciliation talks after repeated delays in the past and in the hope of joining the UN-sponsored peace process to resolve the Syrian conflict.
Fighters of the Manbij military council, allied to Syria Democratic Forces (SDF), take an overwatch position in the southern rural area of Manbij, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria June 1, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo.
Ivan Hassib is a Kurdish journalist who has worked as a correspondent and photographer for Kurdish and Arabic news channels, as well as international outlets. He is based in northeast Syria and currently works as a researcher for Information Management and Mine Action Programs, or IMMAP. On Twitter: @Ivan_Hassib
May 1, 2020
For the first time since Oct. 28, 2019, when Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) commander Mazlum Abdi announced an initiative to resolve inter-Kurdish differences, the Kurdish National Council (KNC) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) kick-started secret, direct talks. The initiative is seemingly designed to include all the Kurdish parties in the PYD-ruled autonomous administration in northeast Syria, paving the way for the autonomous administration to join the UN-sponsored negotiations in Geneva to end the Syrian conflict.
Despite the stakes involved, success is not guaranteed given the tense political relations between the two negotiating parties following years of political conflict and media spats. The KNC is an official part of the Istanbul-based Syrian opposition in exile, while Turkey views the PYD, which espouses the ideology of the Abdullah Ocalan-led Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), as its top foe in Syria. Meanwhile, the PYD is also part of the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), the political arm of the Kurdish-led SDF fighting alongside the US-led international coalition.
Speaking to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity, an informed official source revealed the origins of the negotiations process. “The first direct negotiating round between the KNC and PYD was held in early April at a US military base on the periphery of Hasakah, in the presence of the US special adviser to the global coalition forces in Syria, William Roebuck, and SDF commander Mazlum Abdi.”
At an April 25 press conference in Qamishli, Abdi said, “Remarkable progress is being made in the process to unify the Kurdish ranks. The parties, the PYD and the rest of the political parties are being responsive to the initiative.”
Commenting on the agenda for the negotiations, the source told Al-Monitor, “The two sides are discussing the adoption of a unified political vision for Syrian’s future based on discussion of a draft presented by the US side. After holding at least four meetings as part of the negotiations, the two sides agreed on the following: Syria will be a federal, democratic and pluralistic state; the current regime is an authoritarian and dictatorial regime that uses violence against its opponents; the Kurdish areas consist of an integrated political and geographical unit.”
He also said that the parties agree on building positive relations with neighboring countries and resolving the Syrian crisis in accordance with UN Resolution 2254. Both sides seek to include recognition of Kurdish national, cultural and political rights in the Syrian constitution as well secure constitutional recognition that Syrian Kurds are an indigenous people. They also agree to advocate for the return of refugees and other displaced persons to their homes and for a democratic opposition.
In Qamishli, SDC spokesman Amjad Othman told Al-Monitor, “The motives behind the agreement are much stronger than reasons preventing its conclusion. The parties to the dialogue have the single option of coming to an agreement despite the considerable challenges and difficulties which will only be resolved if the parties are serious.”
Othman said the negotiations can only succeed if the parties remain independent. “The regional influences and agendas need to be ignored, and priority needs to be given to the public interest and a joint vision to address the situations in Afrin, Ras al-Ain/Sari Kani and Gire Spi/Tell Abyad. The Kurdistan parties agreeing to and supporting the initiative would improve the odds of success.”
The KNC is allied with the Kurdish nationalist project led by Massoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in Iraq, having been formed in 2011 with the KDP’s support. As noted, the PYD bases its political and organizational projects on the PKK’s ideology.
Tensions between the PYD and KNC took a turn for the worse when the PYD became the most influential player in northeast Syria in 2012. The KNC viewed the PYD-led autonomous administration as a fait accompli and has refused to apply for a permit to engage in political activity there. The autonomous administration responded by exiling the KNC president, shuttering its offices and arresting dozens of its leaders and members during 2016-17.
Meanwhile, the KNC’s affiliation with the Istanbul-based Syrian opposition has served to exacerbate tensions between the two sides following multiple Turkish military operations launched against the Kurds in Syria. In fact, the PYD has accused the KNC of subordination to the Turkish state at the expense of the Kurdish people.
Kamiran Hajo, chairman of the KNC’s Foreign Relations Committee told Al-Monitor by phone from Sweden, where he resides, “We have always called for the unification of Kurdish ranks. The current circumstances seem to be right for practical steps to be taken in this direction. Following the relatively longstanding feud, the two sides are in need of an agreement that lays the foundations for the Kurds’ future in Syria.”
Hajo fears, however, that any new agreement with the PYD will suffer the same fate as previously ones reached by the two sides under Barzani’s auspices: collapse at the implementation stage. “Negotiations are not going to be easy, and there will be multiple challenges before an agreement is reached,” Hajo said. “The agreement’s implementation phase could be harder than the dialogue and agreement phase in itself. That’s what happened with the previous deals.”
Commenting on the US role in the negotiations, Ahed al-Hindi, a Washington, DC-based political analyst, told Al-Monitor by phone, “I believe that the US efforts to unify the Kurdish ranks in northeastern Syria are a part of [a broader] project designed to unify the entire Syrian north, namely the northwest controlled by the Turkish-backed [opposition] and the northeast controlled by the US-backed [Kurdish-led forces]. This project aims to build a strong position against the [Bashar] al-Assad regime and deny it the areas’ wealth, which could be used to revive the regime.”
Hindi believes the United States is determined to unify the ranks of the Syrian Kurds. He asserted, “The repeated visits Roebuck and his team made lately and his long stays in the region confirm that the US is serious in resolving inter-Kurdish differences and subsequently have the autonomous administration taking part in the Geneva talks to resolve the Syrian crisis and be represented in the opposition delegation.”
Over the course of the nine-year Syrian civil war, the Kurds in Syria have paid exorbitant prices in military and social terms. In 2018 and 2019, they lost the regions of Afrin, Ras al-Ain/Sari Kani and Gire Spi/Tell Abyad to Turkey and Turkish-backed militias, resulting in the displacement of most Kurdish residents in these areas. In addition, in the fight against Islamic State, the SDF, whose backbone is the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, lost 11,000 fighters and saw 22,000 wounded.
Despite controlling nearly 20% of Syrian territory, the SDF does not have political representation in the Geneva talks because of Turkish opposition to their presence. With Ankara continuing to reject any project that would lead to Kurdish autonomous rule in Syria, unifying to jointly pursue Kurdish interests is the only option the Kurds have left.
Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria condemn ‘cowardly’ Afrin bombing
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Kurdish authorities in northeast Syria have condemned the “cowardly” Tuesday car bombing which killed at least 40 civilians in the northern city of Afrin.
A fuel tanker laced with explosives detonated in the city center on Tuesday evening, killing at least 40 civilians and injuring 47 others, according to Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu Agency (AA).
General Commander of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazloum Abdi took to Twitter on Wednesday to condemn the attack.
“What happened in Afrin yesterday was a condemned terrorist act which claimed the lives of innocent people. This criminal act is the outcome of destructive policy pursued by the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries in the city of peace and olives,” Abdi wrote.
A statement released by the Syrian Democratic Council, the SDF’s political wing, accused Turkish-backed forces for the explosion.
“We condemn this cowardly terrorist act which targeted innocent civilians and threatens the remaining sons of Afrin to displace and leave their villages and cities,” read the statement.
“[The] Turkish invasion, relying on [military] fractions with terrorist ideology, has opened the door wide to terrorist forces to reorganize their ranks and carry out cowardly acts under Turkish protection,” it added.
Hours later, Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of the Department of Foreign Relations for the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (NES) called on the international community to “pressure Turkey to leave Afrin and all other occupied areas.”
Afrin was invaded by the Turkish army and its Syrian proxies during Operation Olive Branch in March 2018 on the grounds that the YPG threatened Turkish national security.
Turkish authorities, including the country’s defense ministry and vice president, accused the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the backbone of the multi-ethnic Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of being behind the attack.
Several bombings have rocked Afrin since the Turkish invasion, which Ankara insists are the work of the YPG. However, SDF officials have said that they do not intend to target civilians.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also condemned the attack.
“The United States renews its call for support and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire in Syria following today’s cowardly act of terror carried out on innocent victims in Afrin. Such acts of evil are unacceptable from any side in this conflict,” he wrote on Twitter.
Black smoke rises from the site of Tuesday’s blast in Afrin. Photo: submitted
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — An explosion in the rebel-controlled city of Afrin in northwest Syria on Tuesday killed 42 people and wounded at least 50 others, local officials tell Rudaw English.
Witnesses told Rudaw English that the attack took place just before four p.m. on a crowded street in Afrin’s city center, near the entrance to its main market referred to by locals as the Political Junction, when fully loaded fuel tanker detonated in the middle of midday traffic.
“The bodies have been charred beyond recognition, but they appear to be civilians who were just passing by,” Azad Othman, a member of the Afrin Local Council, told Rudaw English.
Shops and vehicles burned for nearly an hour as fire and rescue vehicles rushed to the scene from nearby Azaz to assist in put out flames caused by the blast.
“It was a popular market that was targeted, so most of the dead are civilians, Raed Saleh, director of the Syrian Civil Defense told Rudaw English via telephone. “Our teams are still searching and rescuing. There could be more,” he added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo took to Twitter to condemn the bombing.
“The United States renews its call for support and implementation of a nationwide ceasefire in Syria following today’s cowardly act of terror carried out on innocent victims in Afrin. Such acts of evil are unacceptable from any side in this conflict,” he wrote.
No group has claimed responsibility for the blast, but the Turkish defense ministry has accused the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which were ousted from the region by Turkey and its proxy Syrian rebel factions in March 2018. Since then, there has been a series of attacks on Turkish targets in the area, as well as reports of violations by local human rights monitors.
Similar blasts in areas controlled by Turkey-backed rebel fighters have targeted the area in recent months.
A statement by the YPG-affiliated Afrin Liberation Forces claimed to have killed two Turkish soldiers and three Syrian fighters in two separate attacks earlier this week.
“There have been three explosions targeting the city just this month, but this one is definitely the biggest and most deadly,” Afrin resident Milad al-Shehabi told Rudaw English.
Originally from Aleppo, Shehabi was displaced to Afrin two years ago. Recent fighting has displaced more that one million Syrians from rural Aleppo and Idlib, some of which still lies outside of the control of forces loyal to Bashar Assad.
Turkey supports the Syrian opposition in the war against President Bashar Assad but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local ceasefires.
By evening, local authorities had compiled a list of names for relatives searching to check on their missing loved ones and collect their disfigured remains.
Updated at 8.51am on 29/4/2020
Kino Gabriel refutes Turkish allegations, calls on them to respect agreements signed
The spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has denied the news that the media of the Turkish occupation is promoting about the developments in the occupied Serekaniye and Girê Spi / Tal Abyad, and affirmed their full commitment to their duty towards their people and partners.
The areas occupied by Turkey and mercenaries are witnessing what is called the “Syrian National Army”, and there is a great security chaos, and there are clashes between mercenaries almost daily.
The Turkish occupation has been working for a while to falsify the facts taking place in the occupied areas, and to spread false news and statements about the operations of the Syrian Democratic Forces.
On what the media machine of the Turkish occupation is trying to publish and which will falsify the lived reality in those areas, the spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces, Kino Gabriel, issued a written statement >
“Recently, several fabricated news and statements by a number of official accounts of the Turkish Ministry of Defense appeared on the Internet, including the official account of the Turkish National Security Council, which publishes false news and information about the military situation and developments in the occupied areas of Ras Al-Ain, Tal Abyad and the Tal Rifaat region.
We in the Syrian Democratic Forces assure that all this information and news is unfounded, and a miserable attempt to distort the reality of what is happening on the ground in terms of the full commitment of our forces to their obligations towards the agreements signed in this regard, and any military presence of our forces do not exist in the aforementioned areas, while the reality is the continuation of the forces Turkish and its mercenary groups bombed villages surrounding the areas of operations, which resulted in various civilian casualties and sabotage to the infrastructure in those areas.
We reaffirm once again our full commitment to our duties towards our people and partners, our rejection of such propaganda methods, and our call for Turkey to respect the agreements signed with our partners in the region. ”
SDF’s Abdi calls for support for national unity initiative
Abdi said that talks have produced positive results which will be announced in the coming days.
Saturday, 25 Apr 2020, 20:09
SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) Commander General Mazloum Abdi spoke to the press after a meeting with a delegation from the Euphrates Region about national unity.
Abdi said there were new developments in the efforts for the achievement of Kurdish national unity, noting that political circles bore a positive approach toward the initiative.
Remarking that talks have produced positive results which will be announced in the coming days, Abdi called on all political parties to support the established initiative and act according to the national unity of the Kurds.
HUSÊN: KURDISH NATIONAL UNITY IS AN URGENT NEED
Dr. Bextiyar Husên from the delegation that met Abdi, remarked that all those that support the establishment of Kurdish national unity have united around the initiative that has been founded to this end.
Defining Kurdish national unity as an urgent need, Husên added that they would meet and talk with the PYD (Democratic Union Party) and ENKS (Syrian Kurdish National Council) on the subject.
Recalling the previous attempts for national unity, Husên said; “The Autonomous Administration and ENKS signed the Hewlêr 1, Hewlêr 2 and Duhok agreements. However, these agreements have unfortunately produced no results. There is a different atmosphere and circumstance today. It is now essential to make a decision for the benefit of the Kurdish people.”
The delegation is expected to meet ENKS and PYD tomorrow.
Turkish-backed militias beat man to death in Afrin
Members of the Sultan Murad Brigade set up and organized by the Turkish secret service MIT have beaten a 74-year-old man to death in Afrin.
Thursday, 23 Apr 2020, 17:13
Reports of further attacks by the occupation forces against inhabitants of the occupied region of Afrin come through almost daily.
On Wednesday, 74-year-old Ali Ehmed died of his injuries. When he was grazing his sheep near his hometown Meydankê, he was severely maltreated by mercenaries of the Sultan Murad Brigade and subsequently died in the hospital of Afrin.
Ali Ehmed is the second civilian who was murdered this week by the occupation forces in Afrin. Two days earlier, Fatme Kene, also 74 years old, had been killed in an attack by Pro-Turkish mercenaries.
The Sultan Murad Brigade consists of Turkish right-wing extremists and Islamists and was set up under the direction of the Turkish secret service MIT.
HRE units continue inflicting blows on the occupation forces in North-East Syria.
Afrin Liberation Forces (HRE) released a statement announcing the results of their latest operations against occupation forces in North-East Syria.
According to the statement, the HRE operations on April 21 and 23 left 10 Turkish-backed mercenaries dead, 14 others wounded and a vehicle destroyed.
On April 21, HRE fighters targeted the mercenary groups between the villages of Kîmarê and Beradê in Afrin’s Sherawa district. Two mercenaries were killed and three others wounded as a result.
On April 23, HRE units carried out three separate sabotage operations against occupation forces in Jarablus and Rai. Eight mercenaries were killed, at least 11 others wounded and a vehicle destroyed in these operations.
HRE fighters also hit the mercenaries at the Maratê junction in Afrin city center but the results of the action couldn’t be clarified.
Kongra Star commemorates victims of the Armenian genocide
“In the name of Kongra Star, we remember the victims of these massacres and express our condolences to them and their families. May the existing struggle and resistance be successful.”
Friday, 24 Apr 2020, 14:52
Women’s umbrella organization in North and East Syria, Kongra Star, released a statement marking the 105th anniversary of the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire.
The statement by Kongra Star includes the following:
“Today, April 24th is the commemoration day of the Armenian genocide, which took place in 1915, 105 years ago. This massacre was carried out by the Ottomans against the Armenian, Syriac, Chaldean and Greek populations.
This was a continuation of the massacre that began in 1904 against the Armenian people. The Ottoman Empire, with its brutality and the massacre it committed, tried to exterminate and destroy the indigenous peoples of the region through rape, kidnapping and murder. Only a few were able to flee and find safety in the surrounding villages. These people wanted to be the voice to demand justice for these massacres and their victims. Until today there are no efforts to ensure that the Armenian genocide is recognized as such in the world. Only few international states have officially recognized this genocide so far. The Turkish state denies this genocide until today.
The current Turkish occupation and invasion in North and East Syria, as we can see in the present Turkish occupied regions of Afrin, Girê Spî or Serêkaniyê, are no less violent in their brutality than a century ago.
When one considers the brutality of their actions, one can see parallels with the ISIS. The Ottoman violence and oppression, which began with the massacres against the Armenians and Syriacs, is now directed against the people in North and East Syria and has the same form as well as the same goal. But the resistance of the peoples continues until today, as we can see in the resistance and struggle against the state oppression of Turkey.
The indigenous peoples today organise themselves in the form of a common administration, which includes all Kurdish and Arabic as well as Syriac, Assyrian and Armenian components, and live together here. This can be a model for the whole world. In the name of Kongra Star, we remember the victims of these massacres and express our condolences to them and their families. May the existing struggle and resistance be successful.
President Trump has said of Syria, “Let the other people take care of it now.” His repudiation of responsibility is striking, given that during his Administration the U.S. military, in its zeal to destroy ISIS, has reduced huge swaths of the country to wasteland.Photograph by Ivor Prickett / Panos
Many Syrians thought that the U.S. cared about them. Now they know better.
By the time Turkey invaded northern Syria, in October, the Ain Issa refugee camp—twenty miles south of the Turkish border—resembled a small city. In recent years, some fourteen thousand people had moved there, displaced by ISIS, Russian and American air strikes, or the repressive regime of President Bashar al-Assad. The camp had evolved from a few tents in a muddy field into a sprawling grid complete with shops, cafeterias, falafel stands, schools, clinics, mosques, a full-time administration, and offices of more than two dozen local and international N.G.O.s. As news spread of the Turkish offensive, Nashat Khairi, a camp mukhtar, or selected representative, urged the roughly thirty families in his section to remain calm. A fruit vender before the war, Khairi had fled his village, in the eastern province of Deir Ezzour, with his wife and seven children, after ISIS captured it, in 2014. They reached Ain Issa three years later. Since then, the camp had come to feel like home. Khairi knew everyone in his section, oversaw the distribution of food rations, registered every birth, and seldom missed a wedding or a funeral. His children received an education and had access to health care. His wife earned a salary as a cleaner. They never went hungry. In cold weather, the camp provided kerosene for their stove, and during the summer they kept their tent cool with a fan powered by a generator. Outside their entryway, Khairi tended a small garden, with neat rows of radishes and bell peppers.
Most important, they were safe. The camp stood on a strategic intersection of the M4 highway, which traverses Syria from the Mediterranean Sea to its border with Iraq. The town of Ain Issa, less than a mile away, was the headquarters of the Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led army that had vanquished ISIS in northern and eastern Syria. Also nearby were two large U.S. military bases, which housed hundreds of American troops, contractors, and Foreign Service workers, who had supported the S.D.F. throughout its anti-ISIS campaign. One of the bases, at the former Lafarge Cement Factory, served as the joint-operations center for Kurdish and American commanders.
Khairi assured his fellow-refugees that someone surely had a plan to protect them. A fenced-off part of the camp held more than eight hundred wives and children of killed or captured ISIS militants: if nothing else, Khairi reasoned, the U.S. forces down the road would never let so many high-value detainees escape.
As the Turkish forces approached, however, an alarming development inside the camp deepened the communal panic. Without informing anyone, the management staff, armed guards, and aid workers had all disappeared.
In town, meanwhile, about fifteen hundred S.D.F. members had been frantically organizing a defense. One of the commanders was a twenty-eight-year-old Kurd from Aleppo Province who went by the nom de guerre Brousque—Lightning, in Kurdish. Brousque had been fighting ISIS alongside American troops for six years; his four siblings, including his twenty-one-year-old sister, also served in the S.D.F. In 2017, when the S.D.F. conducted a gruelling urban assault on Raqqa, ISIS’s global capital, U.S. Special Forces provided Brousque and other Kurdish commanders with tactical guidance while keeping a safe distance from the combat. Two months into the battle, an S.D.F. fighter a few yards in front of Brousque stepped on a mine and was killed, as was a fighter behind them. The blast knocked Brousque unconscious. He woke up in a hospital, blind, his chest, neck, and face burned and lacerated by shrapnel. By the time he recovered and regained his vision, at the end of 2017, ISIS had been defeated in Raqqa. Brousque was deployed to Tell Abyad, in the far north, where he was assigned five hundred fighters to secure a fifty-mile stretch of the border with Turkey.
Tensions on the border were already high. The S.D.F. had grown out of the P.K.K., a Kurdish separatist movement in Turkey that had waged a decades-long insurgency. The U.S. military’s collaboration with the S.D.F. enraged Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. “A country we call an ally is insisting on forming a terror army on our border,” Erdoğan declared, shortly after Brousque arrived in Tell Abyad. “Our mission is to strangle it before it is even born.” Turkey had twice carried out major cross-border operations to seize Kurdish towns and cities in Syria, and further attacks seemed inevitable.
Then, last August, the U.S. brokered a deal between Turkey and the S.D.F. A demilitarized buffer zone along the Syrian side of the border required Brousque to dismantle all his fortifications, seal a tunnel system that his fighters had constructed, pull out of Tell Abyad, and move ten miles deeper into S.D.F. territory. In exchange, Erdoğan pledged not to invade. Brousque was skeptical of this promise, but he had faith in the Americans, who, according to the agreement, would act as guarantors. “We’d become good friends,” he told me, during a visit I made to Syria this winter. “I assumed that the advice they were giving us was in our interest.”
After the S.D.F. withdrew from the border, Turkish and American forces began conducting patrols and aerial surveillance together. Though no Kurds crossed into Turkey, Erdoğan soon dismissed the buffer zone as inadequate, and insisted on expanding it. In September, before the United Nations General Assembly, in New York, he announced his intention to annex more than five thousand square miles of Kurdish land, creating a “peace corridor” where two million Syrian refugees living in Turkey could be resettled. The refugees would be overwhelmingly Arab and from other parts of Syria. The southern edge of the corridor would encompass Ain Issa, Khairi’s refugee camp, and the Lafarge Cement Factory. International observers denounced the scheme as a flagrant attempt at demographic engineering that was certain to produce conflict and humanitarian disaster.
Two weeks later, the White House issued a press release stating that President Donald Trump and Erdoğan had spoken on the phone. While the details of the conversation have not been made public, it was a triumph for Erdoğan. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into northern Syria,” the press release explained, adding that American troops “will no longer be in the immediate area.”
After the U.S. vacated the buffer zone, Turkish jets, drones, and artillery pummelled Tell Abyad and other border cities. The S.D.F., which has no air assets, petitioned the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone, but the Americans refused. Turkey’s ground forces consisted mostly of Syrian Arab mercenaries, many of whom had previously belonged to jihadist groups with a profound animosity toward the Kurds. As these militias pushed south, in armored vehicles, nearly two hundred thousand civilians fled from their path. Reports of war crimes, such as summary executions, followed the advance. Later, the senior American diplomat in Syria, William V. Roeback, wrote an internal memo lamenting that U.S. personnel had “stood by and watched” an “intention-laced effort at ethnic cleansing.”
On October 12th, a Turkish-backed militia reached the M4, where it intercepted an S.U.V. carrying Hevrin Khalaf, a prominent female Kurdish politician. She was beaten to death. Videos posted on Twitter show the militants murdering a second unarmed passenger as well. “Another fleeing pig has been liquidated,” one of the assailants proclaims.
The next day, Turkish forces in the open desert north of the highway began shelling Ain Issa, where Brousque was told to hold the line.
“The only thing between us was the camp,” he recalled.
In Nashat Khairi’s section, a troubling rumor had begun to circulate. The Kurds were said to have turned in desperation to the Assad regime, which was now sending reinforcements to Ain Issa. For many of the refugees, who’d come to the camp seeking asylum from the regime, this was as distressing as the Turkish offensive. Still, most people were reluctant to leave without their I.D.s, which were locked in the camp’s administrative offices.
As the sound of shelling and machine-gun fire neared, another danger materialized. The ISIS-affiliated detainees had somehow got out. The S.D.F. later blamed the breach on a riot provoked by Turkish air strikes. But I met multiple witnesses who claimed to have seen S.D.F. fighters arrive in a pickup and release the detainees. This seems plausible. Much of the Western criticism of the Turkish invasion focussed on the possibility that tens of thousands of ISIS militants and relatives might escape Kurdish custody. The S.D.F., realizing that the world cared more about the spectre of terrorists on the loose than about the killing of Kurds, promoted false accounts about Kurdish prison guards being sent to the Turkish border. Although these stories were untrue, an S.D.F. spokesman told me, they “made the international community pay attention.”
From Ain Issa, most of the detainees ran north, toward the Turks. Others stayed in the camp, infiltrating the regular population and adding to its paranoia and confusion. Several people told me that some of the fleeing ISIS wives cried out, “The night is coming!”
Not long after this, a convoy of armored vehicles flying American flags approached on the highway, from the Lafarge Cement Factory. When the convoy stopped in front of the camp, relief washed over Khairi. “We were so happy,” he remembered. “We thought they were coming to save us.” Khairi told his children that everything was going to be O.K. Then the convoy started moving again.
Khairi and the other refugees did not know that Trump had ordered an immediate withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria, and that the convoy now receding out of sight was headed for Iraq. But they understood that it wasn’t coming back. “Everyone went crazy,” Khairi said. “It was total anarchy.” People swarmed the administrative offices, shattering the windows, breaking down the doors, and lighting them on fire. Fighting persisted between the Turks and the S.D.F., and at some point Khairi’s eight-year-old niece, Amal, was struck by a stray bullet. Her older brother, Ali Mohammad, took her to the hospital in town. The incident aggravated the hysteria, and soon nearly everyone poured out through the camp’s main gate. Unlike the detainees, most of the refugees went south—some in cars, others on foot—unsure where they were going or what they would do. When Ali Mohammad returned to the camp with Amal, she was dead.
Khairi and his relatives stayed to bury her. In a clearing outside a mosque, they dug a grave and marked it with a stone on either end. The sun was setting. No one had eaten in several days. Khairi set out to scavenge for food. It looked as if a tornado had descended on the camp. He marvelled at how quickly everything had changed.
The next day, he hired a truck. “It was very difficult for me to leave,” he told me. “It was the same as when we left our village, in Deir Ezzour.” As the truck headed south—in the same direction from which, five years earlier, they had fled—Khairi and his family found themselves, once again, homeless and running from the war.
The departing Americans, after their brief pause outside the camp, proceeded east on the M4, through the middle of the battle, with Turkish forces on their left and the S.D.F. on their right. Both sides stopped fighting to let them pass, then resumed.
In the end, Brousque and the S.D.F. held on to Ain Issa, preventing the Turks from crossing the highway. It took the Americans three days to transport all their equipment and heavy weaponry out of Syria. Locals hurled rocks at them and called them traitors. After the Lafarge Cement Factory was abandoned, two American F-15s launched missiles at it. A U.S. Army spokesman explained that the purpose of the strike was “to reduce the facility’s military usefulness”—a stunning conclusion to what had arguably been America’s most successful military partnership in the post-9/11 era.
That partnership had begun in 2014, when ISIS stormed across northern Syria and the only meaningful armed resistance it encountered was a small band of Kurdish men and women who called themselves the People’s Protection Units, or Y.P.G. (The Syrian government had pulled most of its troops out of the region two years earlier, to quell uprisings elsewhere in the country.) Thousands of ISIS militants eventually besieged Kobani, the home town of the Y.P.G.’s commander, Ferhat Abdi Sahin, better known as Mazloum. A massacre appeared at hand. When I met Mazloum, in February, he recalled telling his fighters that under no circumstances were they to let ISIS advance beyond the street where he grew up. ISIS captured his house twice, and, according to Mazloum, both times the Y.P.G. took it back. By then, the U.S. had begun providing air support to the embattled Kurds; Mazloum said that American commanders advised him to surrender Kobani, and offered to cover his retreat. He refused. When ISIS seized his house a third time, he radioed its coördinates to the Americans and asked them to destroy it. “That was when the momentum changed,” Mazloum said. “After they bombed my house, we retook the neighborhood, and from there we kept advancing.” The Kurds eventually pushed ISIS out of Kobani, at which point the U.S. proposed to continue backing them from the air, as long as they pursued ISIS on the ground.
This must have been a strange moment for Mazloum, because the U.S. had once considered him a terrorist. He was born in 1967, shortly after the creation of the Syrian Arab Republic, which institutionalized the repression of Kurds. At the age of thirteen, he was imprisoned for reading a book in Kurdish, and as a student at Aleppo University he was arrested four times, for “political activities.” Meanwhile, in Turkey, whose government had enacted severe anti-Kurd policies of its own, the P.K.K. had launched a guerrilla war against the state. The group’s founder, Abdullah Ocalan, was forced to flee to Syria, where Mazloum’s father, a physician, befriended him. Some Turks now refer to Mazloum, derisively, as Ocalan’s “spiritual son.”
After graduating with a degree in architecture, Mazloum joined the P.K.K. He rose through its ranks during the eighties and nineties, while the group carried out kidnappings, assassinations, bombings, and suicide attacks in Turkey. The U.S. officially designated the P.K.K. a terrorist organization in 1997, and a year and a half later the C.I.A. helped Turkey capture Ocalan. He was imprisoned on a small island in the Sea of Marmara, where he remains today.
In 2011, at the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, Mazloum founded the Y.P.G. as a Syrian branch of the P.K.K. Three years later, when American officials offered to support the Y.P.G., they insisted that it break ties with its parent group. Mazloum says that his organization is not connected to the P.K.K. That is preposterous; what is debatable is the nature of the connection. As the Y.P.G. recaptured more territory from ISIS, it absorbed tens of thousands of non-Kurdish fighters—Arabs, Armenians, Assyrians, and Turkmen—and, in 2015, it rebranded itself as the Syrian Democratic Forces. Recruits were still indoctrinated in Ocalan’s anti-Turkish ideology, however, and P.K.K. leaders quietly installed themselves in Syria, consolidating a shadow authority in both the S.D.F. and the emerging bureaucracy responsible for liberated areas. This bureaucracy—the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria—now governs about a third of the country, garnering considerable revenue, from taxes and trade, which, many experts believe, directly finances the P.K.K.
For the Americans, the S.D.F.’s proficiency against ISIS eclipsed concerns about antagonizing Turkey, a NATO ally. As the war against ISIS progressed, the Kurds, despite their fidelity to a designated terrorist organization, developed an extraordinarily copacetic relationship with U.S. troops and personnel. At the command level, this symbiosis seems to have been largely thanks to General Mazloum, whose competence and reliability permitted American officials to overlook his political associations. Brett McGurk, a former special Presidential envoy for the coalition fighting ISIS, told me, “Mazloum proved himself to be incredibly effective militarily—and diplomatically, bringing tens of thousands of Arabs into the force. The results spoke for themselves.” Notwithstanding a lifelong devotion to Kurdish rights, Mazloum was crucial in uniting the S.D.F.’s diverse non-Kurdish factions, especially rivalrous Arab tribes. “He’s pragmatic and subtle,” McGurk said. “He became a trusted interlocutor.”
Today, Mazloum commands more than a hundred thousand fighters, fewer than half of whom are Kurds. His astonishing trajectory, from the leader of a fledgling militia to the general of a multiethnic army controlling a large swath of Syria, has endowed him with an almost mythical stature. “People see him as a kind of prophet,” a Kurdish friend of mine said. Some Americans express a similar awe. “Mazloum is the George Washington of the Kurds,” a U.S. Army major told me.
Erdoğan, for his part, has issued a warrant for Mazloum’s arrest through Interpol, and placed a bounty on his head. For my meeting with General Mazloum, I was instructed to show up at an S.D.F. base; I was then escorted to a remote compound on a hill overlooking wetlands. Guards paced the terraces of a luxurious residence with patios and an expansive swimming pool—the Hollywood version of a narco mansion, except that everyone was nice. Mazloum, the only person on the property in uniform, received me in a small, austere room with a few couches and coffee tables. Soft-spoken and clean-shaven, with graying black hair and an open face, he radiated the guileless enthusiasm of an idealist and the imperturbability of a veteran commander.
It is a sign of the insular and secretive culture of the P.K.K. that, until last year, few people outside Syria had ever heard of Mazloum. Throughout the Raqqa offensive, he avoided the press and remained sequestered with his American counterparts inside the Lafarge Cement Factory. His first public appearance came last March, after the S.D.F. captured Deir Ezzour, ISIS’s last redoubt in Syria, erasing from the map a caliphate that once encompassed more than thirty thousand square miles. At a choreographed ceremony, Mazloum briefly addressed international media outlets that had covered the battle. When we spoke, he explained to me that it would have been inappropriate for a subordinate of his to have declared such a momentous victory. But his decision to step into the spotlight was also tactical: in addition to declaring victory, he implored the U.S. not to abandon Syria prematurely. Warning that ISIS and Al Qaeda still posed a danger to the “whole world,” he asked for continued military support, “in order to begin a new phase in the fight against terrorism.”
His worry was understandable. Three months earlier, in December, 2018, while the S.D.F. was still engaged in brutal daily combat in Deir Ezzour, Trump had declared, on Twitter, “We have won against ISIS.” Praising the “soldiers who have been killed fighting for our country,” he directed the Pentagon to withdraw all its forces from Syria within thirty days. (Two U.S. service members had been killed in Syria, compared with more than ten thousand men and women in the S.D.F.) Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in protest, as did Brett McGurk. After Republican senators joined the backlash, Trump relented on his timetable. But he never rescinded his order to withdraw.
When I asked Mazloum if U.S. military and civilian leaders had begun preparing him for their departure after Trump’s announcement, he said absolutely not. “Basically, they told us it wasn’t going to happen,” Mazloum said. The first official warning he received to the contrary came in October, when the ranking U.S. general for the Middle East called to inform him—on the same day the rest of the world found out—that a Turkish incursion was imminent and that the U.S. would do nothing to impede it. (A U.S. Army spokesman said, “We decline specific comment on prior conversations between senior leaders.”)
The disaster that subsequently befell northern Syria has been widely attributed to Trump’s capitulation to Erdoğan, which many people view as a gross betrayal of the Kurds. Senator Mitt Romney, raising the prospect of a congressional investigation into Trump’s decision, called it “a bloodstain on the annals of American history.” Such criticism hinges on the seemingly self-evident notion that the Kurds, after defeating ISIS at great cost, had earned a debt of loyalty from the U.S. Certainly, this was Mazloum’s understanding. Trump, however, never suggested that it was his understanding. Rather, it appears that U.S. commanders and diplomats made commitments that contradicted his explicit statements—imparting a false sense of security to the Kurds that ultimately harmed them. Mazloum told me that last summer, when he agreed to pull back his forces from the Turkish border, the Americans on the ground in Syria assured him, “As long as we’re here, Turkey will not attack you.”
By all accounts, these Americans genuinely believed in their partnership with the Kurds and were anguished by the way it ended. The question is whether they did the Kurds a disservice by not adequately explaining to them that the collective will of U.S. institutions could be instantly abrogated by a Presidential tweet—and that the posting of such a tweet was likely. In Syria, perhaps more than anywhere else, the unprecedented friction between the White House and its foreign-policy apparatus is on stark display. Almost every Kurd I met, including Mazloum, distinguished between the U.S. military and its Commander-in-Chief. “After all the fighting we did together, we had lots of trust in the Americans,” Mazloum said. “We never imagined everything could change in just two days.” After a pause, he qualified the criticism: “We know this was a political decision. We still have confidence in our American brothers-in-arms.”
In 2015, when Bashar al-Assad appeared to be losing his grip on the country, Vladimir Putin came to his aid. A prodigious Russian air campaign turned the tide of the civil war. In addition to enabling regime atrocities, Russia has killed thousands of Syrian civilians. Russian security contractors have also committed horrific crimes. A 2017 video showed Russians murdering a Syrian with a sledgehammer, then decapitating him and lighting his corpse on fire. However problematic the U.S. intervention in Syria has been, it would be specious to equate Russian and American conduct in the country.
Assad and the Russians have made it clear that their long-term goal is the return of “total state control” in Syria, including in the territory captured from ISIS by the S.D.F. Nevertheless, the day before Turkey attacked Brousque’s forces in Ain Issa and U.S. troops began leaving the Lafarge Cement Factory, Mazloum met with representatives from Russia and the Assad regime. The next afternoon, government military units returned to parts of northern Syria for the first time in seven years. In an editorial in Foreign Policy, Mazloum described his choice as one between “painful compromises” and “the genocide of our people.”
During the next week, a cascade of events upended the strategic balance in Syria and, by extension, throughout the Middle East. Putin invited Erdoğan to Sochi, where the two leaders signed a treaty that halted the Turkish offensive while implicitly ceding to Turkey the land it had already taken—nearly a thousand square miles. (An earlier ceasefire, negotiated by Vice-President Mike Pence, had been neither respected by Turkey nor enforced by the U.S.) Mazloum agreed to relinquish his remaining border positions, and Russia replaced the U.S. as the neutral mediator of the buffer zone. Russian troops also joined regime forces on the S.D.F.’s new front line along the territory annexed by Turkey. Near Ain Issa, Russian soldiers commandeered the largest U.S. airbase in Syria. Russian state television broadcast video footage of American medical supplies, empty bunkhouses, and shipping containers marked “PROPERTY OF U.S. ARMY.”
When I visited Ain Issa, in February, Russian military vehicles entered and exited a former U.S. outpost on the edge of town. A large Russian flag waved on the roof of a former U.S. guard tower. It was visible from the building where I met with Brousque, who now coördinates with Russian soldiers instead of with U.S. Special Forces. It wasn’t the same, Brousque said: “We fought alongside the Americans. They ate with us. They laughed and joked with us. We had the feeling that we belonged to the same team. It’s not like that with the Russians.” Brousque recalled a celebration at the end of a training exercise, during which American troops sang and danced to traditional Kurdish music with their S.D.F. comrades. Smiling at the memory, he said, “The Russians would never do that.”
Earthen berms and trenches lined the north side of the M4. A few hundred feet beyond them were the Turkish-backed militias. Before October, downtown Ain Issa had been a bustling souk. Now it was deserted. Regime soldiers walked by shuttered stores, garages, barbershops, and restaurants. When I introduced myself and tried to ask them questions, they nervously hurried off. They wore mismatched uniforms and tattered sneakers, and several of them looked underfed. Of the handful of soldiers I managed to interview, all but one had been conscripted. None was armed, and I later learned that the S.D.F. had prohibited them from carrying weapons in town.
The regime forces that Mazloum allowed back into Kurdish territory are restricted to the frontiers and pose little danger to the S.D.F. By stopping the Turkish offensive, securing Russian protection, and limiting the deployment of regime troops, Mazloum prevented northern Syria from descending into chaos. But this emergency diplomacy grants only a temporary reprieve. The longer the Kurds must contend with an existential threat from Turkey in the north, the less able they will be to defend their Arab satellites in the south—Deir Ezzour and Raqqa—from Russia and Assad. This secondary effect of the U.S. withdrawal has the potential to become yet another catastrophe, for yet another population.
To the extent that Trump has articulated a coherent policy in Syria, it reflects his view that the country is irredeemably doomed and therefore no longer our concern. “Syria was lost long ago,” he said last year. “We’re talking about sand and death.” Trump is not the first President to cite the scale and the complexity of the Syrian war as a justification for American inconstancy. In 2013, when the regime killed more than a thousand civilians with sarin gas, Barack Obama, leery of being drawn into the conflict, backed away from punitive strikes, despite having declared a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons. The regime, uninhibited by a fear of American repercussions, has since conducted additional gas attacks and wantonly slaughtered tens of thousands of its citizens by other means. One could argue that Obama’s painstakingly considered inaction enabled more violence and misery than any of Trump’s carelessly impulsive actions. At the same time, Trump’s repudiation of American responsibility to Syria is harder to rationalize, given that during his time in office the U.S., in its zeal to exterminate ISIS, has reduced parts of the country to wasteland. Nowhere is this more true than in the city of Raqqa.
The truck that Nashat Khairi hired to take his family away from Ain Issa stopped ten miles north of Raqqa. Khairi, his wife, and their seven children unloaded their belongings on the roadside: mattresses, blankets, pots and pans, their fan and stove. All around them, thousands of refugees from the camp had pitched tents in empty fields, amid grazing livestock. Khairi told his family that they would not be staying there. After a night under the stars, he hitched a ride to Raqqa to look for someplace with a roof.
He discovered a city whose utter decimation might be unique in this century. As a candidate, Trump had vowed to “bomb the shit out of” ISIS, and, almost as soon as he entered the Oval Office, Raqqa afforded him the opportunity. By the summer of 2017, the S.D.F. had encircled the city, which ISIS militants prepared to defend with suicide bombers, an elaborate tunnel system, and ubiquitous I.E.D.s. Because the S.D.F. lacked heavy weaponry and armored vehicles, the offensive relied on U.S. air strikes. For four months, the U.S. deployed thousands of munitions, ranging from laser-guided Hellfire missiles to one-ton unguided bombs. U.S. artillery battalions complemented the barrage with more than thirty thousand shells. An adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff later told the Marine Corps Times, “Every minute of every hour, we were putting some kind of fire on ISIS in Raqqa.” I was shocked, while covering the battle, by what seemed to be a strategy of physical annihilation applied against a city that still harbored a significant civilian population. One front-line S.D.F. commander told me that he called in U.S. air strikes on solitary gunmen.
When the last ISIS holdouts surrendered, the layout of the city was unrecognizable. Months of labor were required just to uncover the streets. The effort was overseen by the Raqqa Civil Council, a municipal authority established by the Kurds which currently operates under the Autonomous Administration. The U.S. supplied excavators and paid the salaries of more than six hundred local workers. Large rig-mounted jackhammers smashed the vast mountains of concrete into manageable pieces, which were then used to fill in craters, seal ISIS tunnels, and reinforce levees on the Euphrates River. Smaller slabs were pulverized and repurposed as cement. Thousands of bodies were extracted, as were tens of thousands of mines. Once the main arteries were passable, water stations and basic plumbing were installed. People started moving back.
“It changed from a dead city to a city with a pulse,” Ibrahim Ibn Khalil, the former director of the Civil Council’s reconstruction committee, told me this winter. We met in a small café in downtown Raqqa, near the central roundabout where ISIS once performed public beheadings and crucifixions. Ibn Khalil, in a wheelchair, held a hookah pipe in his left hand and a cappuccino in his right. In January, 2018, an assassin had entered his house and shot him six times in the chest; ISIS claimed responsibility. Doctors saved Ibn Khalil’s life, but three bullets remain lodged in his back, and no hospital in Syria is equipped to take them out. Ibn Khalil told me that the American officials who had encouraged the development of the Civil Council had promised to secure him a visa so that he could undergo surgery in the U.S. But they never followed through. “It’s very disappointing for me,” he said. “This happened because I was working with the Americans.”
His personal disappointment echoes a larger one. Because the U.N. respects the sovereignty of the Syrian regime, and the regime does not authorize aid delivery to areas controlled by the S.D.F., the U.S. initially assumed the financial burden for Raqqa’s recovery. But, seven months after Ibn Khalil was shot, Trump suspended the Syria budgets of the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development. “Let the other people take care of it now,” he had said. “We’re going to get back to our country, where we belong.” Although Gulf states and European nations made up for the shortfall, which totalled around two hundred and thirty million dollars—about a quarter of what’s been raised to repair Notre-Dame, in Paris—the disruption hampered progress, and many locals lost their jobs. Five months later, when Trump first threatened to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, the Americans advising Ibn Khalil’s team—public-health, water-sanitation, and demining experts—were evacuated from the country. Those who eventually returned were confined to U.S. military bases far from Raqqa, and in October they left Syria for good. Rubble, bombs, and bodies still litter the city—unexploded ordnance continues to kill and maim people every week, typically children—and no government has offered any support for the monumental undertaking of fixing damaged buildings and erecting new ones. In Ibn Khalil’s opinion, “The world has betrayed the people of Raqqa.”
The comprehensiveness of the destruction can be visually disorienting. It’s as if the cumulative energy of the American bombardment had scrambled the normal order of things, leaving behind an Escher-like reality to which the mind needs time to adjust. Concrete staircases dangle vertically from twisted rebar; cars lie upside down; roofs jut at weird angles; slabs of concrete undulate like rumpled cloth; trees cower from old blasts. On every surface, projectiles have gouged holes of different shapes and sizes; entire blocks are sheared off at the top. Some buildings appear to defy physics, frozen mid-fall. Others have been trucked away, the only trace of them a square of dirt.
And yet, remarkably, the obliterated city abounds with activity. Because most of Raqqa was wrecked from above, the ground levels of taller structures often survived more or less intact. Many streets are lined with shops and restaurants that have reopened under multiple gutted floors. Less obvious is where everybody lives. For several days, I couldn’t figure it out. Then one evening, while we were driving around, my translator—a friend from Iraq who’d never been to Raqqa before—said, “Look at all the people.” Although solar-powered L.E.D. lamps illuminate a few main boulevards, and commercial enterprises run diesel generators, Raqqa is eerily dark at night. But now I saw what he was talking about: scattered throughout the city, dim points of light.
One of these belonged to Nashat Khairi. Three days after his family left Ain Issa, he found a cinder-block room on Raqqa’s northern outskirts, near train tracks whose rails had been removed by scavengers, and rusty freight cars converted into shelters. The room was too small for his seven children, so Khairi installed the family’s tent outside, and linked the two entrances with a tarp, thereby doubling the square footage. Between the stakes, he planted another garden with radishes and bell peppers. “This tent is dear to my heart,” he told me when I visited.
As we discussed what had happened in October, Khairi kept referring to a compact agenda that he kept in his pocket. The agenda, so old and weathered that most of its pages had detached, contained copious notes from his years as a mukhtar at the Ain Issa camp: the names, ages, and phone numbers of everyone in his section; the rations to which each family was entitled; the locations of tents with infants needing formula; dates of marriages and deaths. Between the pages were battered business cards—contact information for N.G.O.s and aid workers who had long since quit the region. Picking up a card that had fallen out, Khairi told me it belonged to a doctor who used to perform circumcisions for newborns in the camp. He carefully returned the card to its place.
Khairi had found a job helping a Raqqa merchant sell secondhand blankets, and earned around three dollars a week. (I had first met him, by chance, while he was unfolding his wares on the sidewalk one morning.) Although he often had to choose between food and kerosene—winter temperatures frequently dropped below freezing—he considered himself lucky. Thousands of refugees who had fled Ain Issa were still living in the fields north of Raqqa. The former manager of the camp told me that there is no plan to help them. When my translator and I visited the makeshift settlement, a crowd of women swarmed our car, shouting, “We’re dying of hunger!” and “Why isn’t anyone coming?” We had to drive away when they tried to force open our doors. A villager who lived nearby later told me, “They don’t even have water. Their husbands are in Raqqa looking for work.” He added, “When it rains, these fields will all be flooded.”
The reason none of these people had moved into Raqqa was that the city was already full. Around a hundred thousand people are thought to live there. In addition to former residents returning home, and people fleeing the Turkish invasion, the city has been inundated with Syrians displaced by the regime—from Aleppo, Hama, Deir Ezzour, and elsewhere. Every habitable niche has been claimed. After a week or so, I learned to identify signs of human life within the ruins: drying laundry, bricked-up holes, plastic-covered windows, and small gray satellite dishes affixed to half-collapsing walls. (The Civil Council sells generator-powered electricity for about two dollars a week, and everyone, no matter how destitute, seemed to have a television with several hundred channels.) Sometimes tower complexes were so thoroughly damaged that only a single apartment retained a modicum of structural integrity. One day, I noticed a man sweeping debris from the roof of a three-story building whose top and bottom floors had no exterior walls; he lived in the middle. When he invited me inside, I found the living room impeccably restored, with plush carpets and decorative plaster molding. A polished wood-and-glass display cabinet had survived the battle; on its shelves, porcelain figurines and delicate teacups were arranged on lace doilies.
Most people in Raqqa live in far more squalid and hazardous conditions. Large families are often crowded into one or two rooms with bowed ceilings and bulging walls—masses of blasted concrete literally pressing in on them. Given the state of these apartments, I was surprised to discover that there are few squatters in Raqqa. Almost everyone I met, including Khairi, paid rent.
At one of the dozens of real-estate offices downtown, Hassan Yassin, a middle-aged agent wearing a kaffiyeh and traditional tribal robes, told me, “We’ve never seen such a high demand.” Yassin said that property owners can usually be tracked down, and if they are dead, imprisoned, or abroad, relatives suffice. Prices range from about ten dollars a month, in the suburbs, to as much as thirty dollars a month in the popular Al Firdous neighborhood. (Al Firdous is no less damaged than anywhere else, but it boasts the Electric Park of Raqqa, whose Ferris wheel and bumper cars withstood two air strikes, and Rashid Stadium. A former ISIS torture center, the stadium has a synthetic track that people now jog around.) Yassin waved a stack of papers—his backlog of would-be tenants seeking accommodation. “It’s like that everywhere in Raqqa,” he said.
During the day, the city resonates with the din of banging hammers, power tools, and machinery. Wood shops fabricate furniture; boom trucks and bulldozers clog the roads; venders hawk salvaged brick, tile, metal, and marble. But almost none of this industry is geared toward creating new structures. At a high school flattened by an air strike, a crew of workers contracted by the Civil Council explained their work to me. As backhoes clawed through heaps of concrete, raking out gnarled rebar, laborers fed the steel rods through a straightening machine. Earthmovers then exhumed the foundation, so that the school could be resurrected on its original footprint. This final step, however, was merely theoretical: no building had occurred on any of the sites the crew had prepared.
The U.S. and its allies have refused to fund construction projects in Syria as long as Assad remains in power. “It’s become a collective consensus among donors that we will not do reconstruction in Syria,” a senior humanitarian officer told me. “ ‘Reconstruction’ is a dirty word.” The ostensible reason for withholding such assistance is to incentivize the resolution of a U.N.-sponsored peace process. But the process has been stalled for years, and few people expect it to succeed. The Western aversion to durable investment in Syria more likely arises from a broad but unspoken recognition that Assad is winning the war. “It’s political,” the humanitarian officer said. “We don’t want to do anything that will eventually benefit the regime.”
Even though the State Department and U.S.A.I.D. no longer have personnel in Syria, they still determine how the majority of foreign funding is spent there. The U.S. government distinguishes between “stabilization” and “reconstruction,” allowing the former and proscribing the latter. Stabilization projects are subject to guidelines that forbid, among other things, the building of load-bearing walls. In practical terms, this means that, if a school was minimally damaged by an American air strike, the U.S. can finance basic refurbishments, such as replacing doorframes or applying new paint. But if the school was destroyed—as the vast majority of structures in Raqqa were—the U.S., as a matter of policy, cannot replace it. The Europeans and the Gulf states generally follow the same rule.
For even these limited interventions, only public structures are eligible. Since the Second World War, the U.S. has rarely paid directly for the reconstruction of private homes in any conflict; the crucial difference in Syria is the absence of other actors to provide such aid. In Iraq, the U.N. has rebuilt more than twenty-five thousand residences that were destroyed during the war against ISIS, and the World Bank is funding major infrastructure projects. In Raqqa, deferring to the regime, neither institution has done anything.
Yassin told me that, among the buildings where he had placed renters, “we estimate that at least seventy per cent of them will have to be torn down—they’re not safe.” I asked what will happen to their occupants if that happens. “They’ll have to go somewhere else,” he said.
In Raqqa, you can’t walk down the street without encountering people whose lives have been shattered by American arms. An investigation by Amnesty International found that the U.S.-led coalition killed at least sixteen hundred civilians in the city; locals say that the actual toll is much higher. Although American officials like to claim that the U.S. “liberated” Raqqa, nobody I met there felt liberated.
One afternoon, in a neighborhood adjacent to Al Firdous, we passed a yellow taxi parked outside a building that looked as if it had been stepped on by a giant. A sheet hung over the doorway. When my translator asked if anyone was home, a middle-aged man with gray hair and a gray mustache emerged. His name was Mustafa al-Hamad. We followed him into a room with crumbling walls lined with blankets and pillows, where we were joined by his wife, Namat.
They were originally from Aleppo, where Hamad had managed a shoe store. In 2012, the revolution turned violent in their neighborhood, and they moved with their four children to Raqqa. The war had not yet reached Raqqa, and Namat’s family lived there. Hamad bought a taxi and began working as a driver. He and Namat had another daughter. After ISIS captured Raqqa, in 2014, they considered fleeing—but nowhere they could go was significantly safer. Two years later, the S.D.F. began its advance on the city, and ISIS, recognizing the need for human shields, prohibited civilians from leaving.
In 2017, as the S.D.F. approached Raqqa, the already ferocious deluge of munitions intensified. That July, a shell or an air strike killed Namat’s brother, Khalid. She and Hamad resolved to get out. The taxi could fit only them, their five children, and Khalid’s thirteen-year-old son, whom they had adopted. Hamad promised to return for Namat’s mother, sister, nieces, and nephews. They left at night, following a rutted dirt road through the wetlands on the edge of the Euphrates. Eventually, they arrived at a line of vehicles—other residents trying to escape the city—backed up from where the road disappeared into a marsh. ISIS militants had blown up a levee, flooding the way.
About a dozen men were helping people move their cars, one after another, across several hundred feet of water. “If we hear a plane, we have to go,” they told Hamad. The Americans, fearing that ISIS militants were sneaking out of Raqqa, had dropped leaflets threatening to bomb anyone attempting to ford the river.
When it was Hamad’s turn, he and his two teen-age sons got out and pushed. Namat and her daughters waded alongside them. The water rose to Namat’s chest; she held her infant above her head. They made it across, and the next day reached a town under the control of the S.D.F.
Hamad did not go back for Namat’s mother and sister—to do so would have been suicidal. Both women, along with four of Namat’s nieces and nephews, were later killed in an air strike. As soon as Raqqa was accessible, Hamad and Namat visited the site, hoping to recover their bodies. There was too much rubble.
The day after I met Hamad, he led me and my translator to the place where he had pushed his taxi across the marsh. The dirt road was still flooded, and looked exactly as he had described it. On the way back to the city, we stopped at a small scrap yard. In a wooden shack surrounded by rusty engine parts, shutters, gears, wheels, and other refuse, we found the young owner sitting on a crate, drinking tea with one of his suppliers. While I spoke to the owner about his business—there had been a brief boom, he said, but the city was soon picked over—the supplier regarded me suspiciously. He was missing several teeth, and cotton spilled from holes all over his dirty coat. He grew agitated as I continued asking questions, and finally interrupted me. “During the battle, a mortar killed my wife and three of my daughters,” he said. “Another one of my daughters lost her leg.”
The man, named Hussein Ahmad, invited me to his house, where I met his ten-year-old daughter, Fatma, who is now in a wheelchair. Fatma recalled cooking dinner with her mother and sisters when a shell tore through their kitchen. Rima was fifteen, Amira fourteen, and Waffa twelve. Ahmad said he had asked several N.G.O.s about getting a prosthesis for Fatma. He’d taped his phone number to the wall, in case someone showed up while he was out collecting metal.
Most civilians who were injured by U.S. artillery and air strikes were treated at the Raqqa Public Hospital. A former doctor from the hospital told me that by the end of the fighting only ten of his colleagues remained, the others having fled or died. Amputation became the default treatment for wounded limbs, the doctor said. One physician had performed so many amputations that ISIS accused him of deliberately impairing people. Infection and sepsis were common. Fatma said that, when she woke up in one of the wards, “they were cleaning my leg but I couldn’t feel anything—then it started to smell and they cut it.”
Because the hospital also treated ISIS militants, it was a frequent target of U.S. air strikes. (Toward the end of the offensive, it also became an ISIS fighting position.) When the current director of the hospital, Kassar Ali, took me inside the original facility, we had to scrabble through downed pipes and caved-in ceilings, the walls and floors scorched black by fire. Scattered everywhere were the remnants of medical supplies: white piles of cast plaster, contorted gurneys, smashed exam tables. Air strikes had destroyed all of the X-ray machines, CAT scanners, and MRI devices. Doctors Without Borders has financed the renovation of a new wing—which is currently the only public-health facility in Raqqa—but none of this essential equipment has been replaced. According to Ali, American commanders had visited the hospital on several occasions: “Each time, they took pictures, we had long meetings, and they promised support. But so far they’ve given us nothing.” Since October, even the visits have stopped. Reached by phone recently, Ali said that he is deeply worried about the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak in Raqqa. “We can take care of one or two patients, at most,” he explained. The hospital has two ventilators—eight were lost to air strikes.
If people in Raqqa knew the U.S.’s rationale for refusing to engage in any substantive reconstruction of their city—because it might end up in the hands of the regime—they would no doubt feel even more betrayed than they do now. Raqqa is an Arab city, and most of its residents, unlike the Kurds, are unwilling to accept any deal with the regime. While interviewing people in Raqqa, I often heard the phrase “the devil before Assad.” When General Mazloum made his accommodation with the regime, protests broke out in the city. Some Arabs, fearing the regime’s return, have since fled. Hamad and Namat told me that if the regime comes back they, too, will leave. After they escaped Raqqa, in 2017, their daughter Noor married and moved to Hama Province, in western Syria; six months later, she was killed, along with her husband and her in-laws, in an air strike by the regime or the Russians. Hamad and Namat’s anger aside, staying would be foolhardy: as natives of Aleppo, they risk meeting the same fate as the tens of thousands of Syrians whom the regime has disappeared since 2011. When their eldest son turned eighteen, he would be conscripted.
The partially demolished apartment where they now live once belonged to Namat’s mother. When they returned to Raqqa, Hamad and Namat spent ten days clearing out rubble and shoring up the walls. Hamad wired in electricity, and Namat planted vegetables in an empty lot outside. They even had a kitchen with a sink and running water. If they left this place, I asked, where would they go? Hamad reflected, then said, “Wherever the regime isn’t.”
Dread of the regime is even more acute for those who have worked, even in limited capacities, with the U.S. At the offices of Citizenship House, a local N.G.O. based in the Al Firdous neighborhood, I met half a dozen women who ran democracy-education workshops funded by the State Department and by European governments. One of them, Yamam Abdulghani, told me, “To the regime, we’re terrorists. They accuse us of applying a Western agenda and Western ideologies.” When I asked what punishment such activities might elicit, Abdulghani said, “Look at Caesar’s pictures.” In 2013, a former military-police photographer using the pseudonym Caesar divulged thousands of images of Syrian prisoners who had been tortured and executed in regime detention centers.
The workshops at Citizenship House are quintessential “stabilization” programs. In contrast to humanitarian operations—which are supposed to address immediate needs—such programs are designed to forestall the emergence of ISIS and other extremist movements; for this reason, the U.S. and its allies will fund them. But, in Raqqa, the absence of any U.S. protection against the regime—and of any U.S. investment in rebuilding—has created exactly the kinds of conditions in which radical groups like ISIS flourish. According to Abdulghani, a bellwether for such instability in Raqqa is the current situation of its women.
Women’s rights are central to the political philosophy of Abdullah Ocalan, and the S.D.F. and the Autonomous Administration vigorously promote gender equality. A billboard outside the Raqqa Civil Council declares, “With women at the forefront of the twenty-first century, we will end all violence against humanity.” Moreover, before ISIS, few women in Raqqa wore niqabs and veils. Yet Abdulghani was one of only two uncovered women I met in the city. The other was the Kurdish co-chair of the Civil Council. Abdulghani said that the prevalence of niqabs and veils could be attributed, in part, to the lingering influence of ISIS. But the U.S. withdrawal was a bigger factor. “Before October, some women had started to uncover,” she said. “Now it’s stopped. Women are afraid of what’s coming.”
Abdulghani, who, in 2016, smuggled herself out of Raqqa in a truckful of goats, said that people often harass her on the street, calling her a prostitute and warning that ISIS will soon be back. “Everyone is preparing to leave,” she said. “No one feels secure. No one can think about tomorrow.”
Two weeks after Trump ordered a full withdrawal of the thousand or so U.S. troops in Syria, he decided to send half of them back. They would not be defending their Kurdish allies against Turkey, or deterring the regime from encroaching on Raqqa. Instead, Trump said, “we are leaving soldiers to secure the oil.” Cryptically, he went on, “Maybe somebody else wants the oil, in which case they’ll have a hell of a fight.” The Pentagon has characterized the mission differently: the “somebody” it is concerned about is ISIS, and American troops are in Syria “for the oil” only insofar as safeguarding it deprives ISIS of a potential source of revenue.
Both of these explanations feel disingenuous. It’s true that ISIS persists around the S.D.F.-controlled oil fields of Deir Ezzour Province, where U.S. Special Forces continue to carry out counterterrorism raids. But Iran, which supports the Assad regime, is also active there. Nashat Khairi and his family, for instance, can’t return to their village in Deir Ezzour because it is occupied by an Iranian-backed militia. Until October, containing Iranian adventurism was a key U.S. priority in Syria, and Trump’s “maximum pressure” approach to Iran has been perhaps the most consistent feature of his foreign-policy agenda. Iranian operations in Syria are overseen by the Quds Force, which used to be commanded by Qassem Suleimani, the general who was assassinated in a drone strike in January. Trump later defended his decision to order the strike by saying that Suleimani had “viciously wounded and murdered thousands of U.S. troops.” A U.S. withdrawal from Deir Ezzour could entail surrendering U.S. bases to the Quds Force.
Another place in Syria where U.S. troops are currently stationed is also rich in oil—a Kurdish region called Jazira. But ISIS has no presence in Jazira, and there is little need to protect its oil. Most of the crude in both Jazira and Deir Ezzour is exported to the regime, which refines it and sells a portion back to the Kurds, as diesel and petroleum. Although the Kurds and the regime fundamentally oppose each other, they engage in this commerce because neither could subsist without it: international sanctions prevent the regime from buying sufficient oil on the global market, and the Kurds have no refineries of their own. Jazira is strategically valuable not because of its peculiar oil trade but because it is where the M4 crosses into northern Iraq—another Kurdish-governed territory. The border is a lifeline for Syrian Kurds, and also a bridge between two major spheres of U.S. influence. Russia is thus determined to control it. When I visited Jazira, this winter, U.S. and Russian patrols were confronting one another almost daily on the muddy roads that crisscross its barren hills.
Russia has long presented itself as a preferable alternative to U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, and Trump’s disengagement has galvanized Putin’s regional ambitions. The most arresting thing about the video showing the Russian takeover of the U.S. airbase near Ain Issa is not the Russian helicopter touching down on an American landing zone, or the Russian soldiers moving into American barracks; it is the Russian officer invoking timeworn American rhetoric. “We are here to deliver humanitarian and medical aid to civilians, and to provide them with peace and security,” he says.
The Kurds know that Russia, Iran, and the regime want the same thing Turkey wants: an end to their autonomy in Syria. This is why many Kurds, despite Trump’s oft-expressed indifference to their welfare, cling to the hope of a renewed alliance with the U.S. Nearly all the Kurdish officials I interviewed were so desperate to salvage what remained of the American commitment to Syria that they refused to speak on the record about the withdrawal. One S.D.F. commander told me that, even during the Turkish invasion, he and his peers refrained from criticizing the U.S. in the press. “We discussed it, and decided to say we felt ‘disappointed’ instead of ‘betrayed,’ ” he said. Trump’s opinion of the Kurds, however, seems to have only deteriorated since he abandoned them. In November, he hosted Erdoğan in the Oval Office, where the Turkish President reportedly produced an iPad and showed a video comparing General Mazloum to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder of ISIS. Afterward, Trump thanked Erdoğan and the Turkish military “for the job they’ve done” in Syria. He has also mused, “The Kurds, it’s very interesting—Turkey doesn’t like them, other people do.”
Were Trump to remove the remaining U.S. forces in Jazira and Deir Ezzour, the S.D.F. would have to make additional concessions to the regime in order to secure a bulwark against Turkey. This could include handing over Raqqa. But, even if the U.S. stays in Syria, and Turkey does not renew its offensive, the status quo appears unsustainable. Once Russia, Iran, and the regime have defeated the final pockets of the Arab opposition, they will almost certainly turn their attention to the Kurds. Arthur Quesnay, a political scientist at the Sorbonne, who recently co-authored a report on northern Syria, told me, “It may take a couple of years, but the regime will gradually return and recapture territory.” Quesnay believes that the fall of Raqqa and Deir Ezzour will be only the beginning. If the regime managed to take control of a few strategic sites, such as the border crossing in Jazira, it could starve the S.D.F. of resources, precipitating its collapse. In that case, Mazloum’s army would revert to what it was before his fateful introduction to the U.S., in 2014: a small Kurdish militia, surrounded by enemies.
All over northern Syria, the Kurds are preparing for this scenario by building an extensive network of tunnels. According to Mazloum, Trump promised him that he would never allow Erdoğan to attack Kobani. But Mazloum seems to have little confidence in the reassurance: I saw more tunnels in his home town than anywhere else. Twenty-five miles of paved road connects the former U.S. airbase near Ain Issa to Kobani, which abuts the Turkish border. The entire length of this route is lined with small blue tents, spaced around seventy feet apart, each standing beside a large mound of soil. When my translator and I pulled over and entered one of them, we found two teen-agers, covered in dirt, peering into a narrow shaft. A winch was suspended above the mouth of the shaft, and when the boys retracted its cable a man in a harness surfaced from the subterranean dark. They had been digging for three weeks straight. The tunnel, which parallels the road, was thirty feet underground.
While the Kurds are adjusting to the fact that the sky is no longer on their side, so are the area’s civilians. West of Ain Issa on the M4, where the front line with the Turks cuts across sweeping plains, a small Christian village called Tell Tawil sits on a low rise, conspicuous from a distance because of its abundant trees. In 2015, as ISIS neared Tell Tawil, the entire population fled. A year later, after the S.D.F. expelled ISIS, some people returned. When the Turks invaded, there was another exodus. One afternoon, as I accompanied an S.D.F. fighter through Tell Tawil’s deserted streets, he explained that Turkish-backed militias across the fields frequently shelled the village, despite the ceasefire, and Turkish drones sometimes targeted it with missiles. All the houses were empty, and the church was boarded up.
I was therefore surprised when we came upon two old men, sitting shoulder to shoulder, on a stoop in the sun. Their names were David Abraham and Khoshaba Samuel. Abraham, who is eighty-seven years old, wore a pin-striped blazer over a V-neck sweater and a collared shirt. He said that he had lived in Tell Tawil since 1935. His wife had died six years ago, four of his five sons had settled in Sweden, and his daughter lived in the U.S. Samuel, who is eighty, had known Abraham since he was a child and still appeared to respect his seniority. “I love this land,” Abraham said. “I’ll never leave it.” Samuel nodded in agreement.
After saying goodbye to Abraham and Samuel, I asked the S.D.F. fighter to show me his unit’s forwardmost position. We were heading down a hill to the northern edge of the village when I heard footsteps approaching from behind and turned to see Abraham briskly following us. At the end of the road, the S.D.F. fighter pointed to several sandbagged foxholes outside a gated property. He gestured toward the open expanse, strewn with old tractor parts, that stretched from where we stood: this was the no man’s land.
When Abraham caught up to us, he insisted that we come to his house for a cup of coffee. I asked where he lived.
“Here,” he said, opening the gate behind the foxholes.
Three huge dogs barked and jumped on Abraham as he led us into the yard. Pushing them away, Abraham complained to the S.D.F. fighter that someone had recently shot one of the dogs in the paw. We sat at a picnic table, on a deck looking out toward the Turkish front line. Abraham said that mortars sometimes whistled over his roof. He went inside and returned with whiskey tumblers containing espresso. Roosters crowed. After a while, Samuel appeared and, without a word, took a seat across from Abraham. Like almost everyone else from Tell Tawil, they were cotton farmers. Abraham owned a six-acre parcel across the road, but, even if peace came to Syria before he died, he knew that he’d never work it again. ISIS, the Turks, and the S.D.F. had all littered it with mines.
As we stood to leave, I asked Abraham what Tell Tawil had been like during the Second World War, when Britain and Vichy France fought for control of Syria. He said that his memories were vague. One, however, did stand out. He remembered lying flat in the fields, with other children, each time planes passed overhead. ♦
SDF commander: Turkey, its mercenaries prepare for launching massive attack
SDF commander in Ain Issa district ‘s fronts has linked the Turkish reinforcements and sleeper cells attacks of mercenary gangs to preparing for launching massive attack on the areas of north and east of Syria.
NEWS21 Apr 2020, Tue – 10:312020-04-21T10:31:00 AIN ISSA- JIHAN BALKI
As we know all world’s states are preoccupied with confronting Coronavirus pandemic, but Turkish state is interested to occupy large swaths of the lands of north and east, where it escalated its attacks on it.
Despite all UN invitations to cease-fire in Syria, but all the evidence that refer to massive attack are being prepared to be launched.
Preparations for a massive attack
In an interview with Hawar news agency (ANHA), SDF commander in the fronts of Ain Issa, Ardal Kobani, said that the signs indicate a Turkish preparation for a large-scale attack on north and east Syria.
“The occupiers are taking advantage of the status quo, to occupy more areas, and deliberately targeting civilians, the people are resisting on two fronts, resisting to prevent the emergence of the Coronavirus, and resisting the attacks of the Turkish occupation army, as the Turkish occupation state tries to transfer the Coronavirus to our areas to put north and east Syria In trouble“.
He continued in the same context, “We have information stating that people infected with the Coronavirus have been taken to Serêkaniyê area, Tel Abyad and Afrin, and they are also trying to transfer infected people to Ain Issa.”
ISIS is reorganizing its ranks
Ardal Kobani drew attention to the fact that ISIS mercenaries are taking advantage of the curfew conditions in the area, and said, “A few days ago, they attacked civilians in their homes with grenades, with this dirty method, they are trying to push the people out of their homes to break the measures taken to prevent the emergence of the Coronavirus and empty it of their residents, recruiting children as old as 15 years to carry out suicide attacks, it is clear that ISIS is preparing for an attack and reorganizing its ranks. There are movements of sleeper cells with the aim of weakening SDF. “
SDF is committed to defending the people
The leader reaffirmed the commitment of the Syrian Democratic Forces SDF to international calls for a cease-fire, but at the same time affirmed the readiness of the forces to confront the continuous attacks by the Turkish occupation army and its mercenaries.
Socially dangerous’ for having fought off ISIS
3 April 2020
Stefania D’ignoti speaks to a group of volunteers met with hostility and legal persecution after returning to Italy from the autonomous Kurdish-held region of Rojava.
At the entrance of the Ex-Caserma Occupata, a community centre in the Tuscan seaside city of Livorno, there is some graffiti of a woman holding a gun. She wears a green, red and yellow-coloured headscarf.
Posters bearing the word ‘Rojava’ and flags with red stars on yellow backgrounds signal the centre’s clear support for the Kurdish social revolution that began in early 2013 in north-eastern Syria – now named Rojava.
Rojava has a Kurdish majority population, but is also home to other ethnic minorities, including Arabs and Yezidis. According to Yilmaz Orkan, coordinator of the Kurdistan Information Office in Italy, signs of support for Rojava, similar to those at Ex-Caserma Occupata, can be spotted at youth and social centres scattered around the country, particularly in the northern regions of Piedmont, Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, where Kurdish refugees have flocked to since the late 1980s.
‘In Italy there have always been people showing interest in the Kurdish cause, and since the People’s Protection Unit, more commonly known as YPG, fought and helped defeat ISIS, the topic gained international resonance,’ Orkan says.
‘But what made it even more popular recently is the trial of a group of Italian volunteers who joined YPG units on the ground.’
In January 2019, a court in the northern city of Turin began a peculiar legal procedure called ‘special surveillance’ against five volunteers from Italy who joined the YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel), the primary component of the Syrian Democratic Forces, in north-eastern Syria.
The five volunteers – Maria Edgarda Marcucci, Davide Grasso, Jacopo Bindi, Fabrizio Maniero and Paolo Andolina – were mostly in Syria between 2016 and 2018. They had never met each other before this, but had previously been active in social and political movements in Italy.
They travelled to Syria after becoming fascinated by the revolutionary ideas emerging from Rojava after the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011. According to Orkan, these Rojavan ideals are rooted in building a ‘multi-ethnic society, based on principles of gender equality, social cohesion and environmental protection.’
Four of them ended up enrolling in the YPG and Marcucci in the YPJ, the women’s combat unit.
It’s absurd to think that they’re the ones considered dangerous while real acts of terrorism often pass unpunished
In January 2019, Turin’s court instigated a ‘special prevention procedure’, a legal process aimed at potentially ‘dangerous subjects’, to limit the volunteers’ civil freedoms.
Judges recommended they be expelled from their hometown of Turin for at least two years, revoking their passports and driving licences, banning them from all social and political activities – including engaging in public life by discussing their experiences in panel events and conferences. The suggested measures also included placing the defendants under curfew between 7.00pm and 6.00am.
The volunteers were labelled ‘socially dangerous’, and judges said that they represented a threat because of the combat training they received while on the ground.
The case attracted widespread criticism from young people in Italy and social centres like the Ex-Caserma in Livorno mobilized through solidarity campaigns to condemn what they see as ‘unfair’ and ‘undemocratic’ treatment, according to Elisa, a regular attendee of the community centre’s activities.
‘[This legal procedure] is a lack of respect for the European and international victims of fundamentalism and to those, Syrians and not, who perished in the war against the Islamic State,’ she said.
Jacopo Bindi, one of the five defendants, explains to New Internationalist that they all ‘felt [they were] victims of an unfair judicial system that focuses on our political views, rather than our actual conduct.’
Cracking down on dissent
Before leaving for Syria, Bindi was part of the popular ‘No Tav’ grassroots civil movement criticizing the TAV (Italian for ‘high-speed trains’) and more generally the unsustainable train infrastructure development in northern Italy. The group claims the development ignores the environment dangers inherent to the project, and the movement itself has been widely opposed by Italian authorities. Bindi believes his involvement in No Tav is what pushed judges to consider him ‘dangerous’.
‘I was a young student curious to learn about new social systems that could give an answer to my ideals,’ he says. ‘So in 2017 I decided to go to Syria and see with my own eyes the revolution that was taking place there. I needed to witness change.’
Initially, Bindi planned to stay for a month as an international observer. Hundreds of young people from western countries were already on the ground, offering what help they could. Apart from combat help, they would help organizing activities at youth centres and engage with the local population through cultural and ideological exchanges, helping out with farming and ecology activities, or write reports on the ground for western readers.
Compelled to take a more active role, Bindi ended up extending his stay by nine months, during which he served as a volunteer for youth activities and at the media centre in Afrin. Of the five, he was the only one who did not get involved in military operations. ‘I was in charge of peaceful activities, that’s why in my situation, this scenario was even more absurd,’ he says, exasperated.
Claudio Novaro, the defense attorney of the five defendants, told the Italian magazine L’Espresso that ‘the court’s claim is that their military skills could potentially be used in the No Tav context,’ making it a trial against their potential intentions rather than actual crimes committed.
The court case began a few days before another Italian volunteer, Lorenzo Orsetti, died on the battlefield in the village of Baghouz on 18 March 2019. His death attracted significant media attention in Italy.
Zerocalcare, an Italian cartoonist and author of Kobane Calling, a comic book about his own volunteer experience in Rojava, paid tribute to Orsetti’s ‘martyrdom’, as he called it, through one of his comics.
Elisa says that Orsetti’s act of courage resonated with her because she sees regimes imposing their power through fear and violence as the enemy of her generation, as fascism was for her grandparents, who lived through the Second World War.
‘I think many politically active young people felt represented by Orsetti’s commitment to social justice, that’s why we raised our voice and gathered social media resonance to not let this episode pass by unnoticed,’ she said.
Both the media and the committee in charge of their case labelled the group as ‘foreign fighters’, a term normally used to refer to jihadists joining ISIS, who both Grasso and Bindi were surprised to be associated with
As a result of the public outcry in Italy, the judges decided to drop the charges against two of the defendants – Davide Grasso and Fabrizio Maniero – and postpone a separate decision about the remaining three to the fall of 2019 which, according to the defendants, was a move to separate and weaken them.
‘[But] when Turkey began bombarding north-eastern Syria in October, the judges postponed their decision again,’ Davide Grasso told New Internationalist. On 16 December 2019, prosecutors finally convened on a special surveillance against the remaining three, with a 90-day period to officially approve the decision to convict them, or overturn it. Finally, on 17 March this year,, the court of Turin decided to apply the special procedure solely to Maria Edgarda Marcucci, the only woman of the group.
The court based their decision on the notion that Marcucci was the most threatening case, because in the fall of 2019 she took part in a protest against the arm trade between Italy and Turkey while Turkey was implementing aerial bombardment over northern Syria this past October.
‘We all feel personally attacked by this decision, without distinctions. We still feel proud of what we did for Syria and democracy, to free people from fundamentalism, and to inform Italians about what really happens in Syria,’ the five defendants wrote in a joint statement reflecting on the decision.
‘It’s a serious action against a woman who risked her life to fight ISIS and terrorism and protect civilians.’
The trial has represented a mental burden for the young activists. Years after his return, Grasso admits he was shocked and disappointed to learn the news that his own country now considered him a threat. His bank account was shut down for ‘safety reasons’ connected to his service in Rojava, and his Facebook account was suspended three times for having shared photos and posts about his experiences in Syria.
On the other hand, Bindi says his time in Syria as a peaceful supporter was life-changing: ‘It made me realize our indifference toward what happens in the rest of the world, and how isolated we are.’
But when he returned, the trial aimed to limit his freedom to share his experience. Despite the year-long legal procedure they’ve had to face, both Bindi and Grasso feel relieved to have had public opinion on their side.
Stefania Pusateri, a humanitarian worker, produced a documentary about the trial, with the title Dangerous Subjects, to raise awareness about what she considers to be an example of legal injustice.
‘It’s absurd to think that they’re the ones considered dangerous […] while real acts of terrorism often pass unpunished,’ she says.
QAMISHLI, Syria (Kurdistan 24) – The Syrian regime-affiliated National Defense Forces on Saturday opened fire on a police vehicle of the Kurdish-led self-administration in the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli, local authorities said.
A Kurdistan 24 news team reported that the shooting killed one member of the Kurdish security forces, known as Asayish, and wounded another.
A Russian patrol unit headed to the site of the incident and intervened to de-escalate and prevent clashes amid underlying tensions in the area, a Kurdistan 24 correspondent in Qamishli reported.
Local Asayish officials said in an online statement, “Members of the Syrian regime forces targeted a military vehicle belonging to our forces, which was in a joint patrol with a municipality vehicle carrying some cleaners as well as another for emergency medical transport.
The Asayish were guarding the cleaners and the ambulance, both on duty as part of efforts to prevent an outbreak of the new coronavirus disease in the region, the statement said. It added that the attack disrupted their work.
The Syrian forces killed a member of the Kurdish security forces and wounded at least three others. The shooting also resulted in the death of one passerby civilian.
The Kurdish police condemned the shooting and blamed the Syrian regime forces for the attack.
“We condemn the cowardly act carried out by members of the Syrian regime, and we assure our people that such attacks will not discourage our resolve and our insistence on achieving security and stability in our regions,” the statement read.
The shooting happened in the regime-held part of Qamishli near a roundabout in the city’s center where a statue of the former Syrian president Hafez Al-Assad stands.
This regime-held roundabout links two Kurdish-held neighborhoods of Qamishli. It is a road that vehicles of the Kurdish self-administration have taken without any obstacles over the past seven years.
Syrian regime troops have only had brief and intermittent clashes with Kurdish-led forces since the outbreak of the civil war in 2011. Both sides appear to have purposefully avoided escalation, but confrontations in Qamishli and Hasakah–both mostly regime-controlled in previous years–have resulted in Kurdish forces taking over a large portion of the two Kurdish-majority cities.
Editing by Kosar Nawzad
In addition to the central Assad-led government, both the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and various opposition groups control territory in the country— and will likely have some say in its post-war future. Yet their respective policies on women’s rights and representation are vastly different— an important distinction to make in assessing the country’s progress and determining international support.
Leadership and Representation
Women in the Autonomous Administration and the Syrian Democratic Forces hold senior leadership roles across policy functions and at all levels of their institutions. Ilham Ahmed, the co-chair of the Syrian Democratic Council, acts as the region’s de facto head of state, speaking before the U.S. Congress and meeting U.S. President Donald Trump last year. Further, the SDF operation to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control was led by a woman commander, Rojda Felat.
With the exception of women-only institutions, every deliberative body operates under a co-chair system, where all leadership positions are held jointly by one woman and one man. Offices and commissions within the Executive Council of the Administration, equivalent to cabinet departments, also use this system.
The Syrian opposition, however, lacks senior female leaders. In 2012, an early conference of the Syrian National Council elected no women to its 41-member decision-making group and the Syrian National Coalition has never had a woman president. In fact, the first woman to serve as the head of any opposition local council was only elected in 2018.
These disparities in senior leadership are reflected across the political structures of each faction. The Autonomous Administration’s constitution mandates that elected bodies and political parties, from the highest levels of the Administration to the smallest neighborhood commune, be made up of at least 40% women. Autonomous women’s organizations, like the Women’s Council of North and East Syria, exist in parallel to every mixed-gender institution, making the percentage of women actually serving in government slightly higher than men. These institutions have the ability to overrule and advise mixed-gender institutions on issues of women’s rights.
The Autonomous Administration’s constitution mandates that elected bodies and political parties, from the highest levels of the Administration to the smallest neighborhood commune, be made up of at least 40% women.
In contrast, a 2016 report from the Syrian Feminist Lobby quoted a study of 105 of the 427 local councils in opposition-held Syria at the time, which found that just 2% of their members were women. Just two women, including the Vice President, serve on the 23-member Political Committee of the Syrian National Coalition, and just 10% of the members of the Coalition’s General Body are women.
Based on this data, the Autonomous Administration would fall into the Middle East Women Leaders Index’s categorization of Ascending Representation— meaning women’s participation and leadership is high at all levels of government and across all policy areas. The report accurately classifies the Syrian government in the category of Aspiring Representation— meaning that women’s participation outside of traditional roles is still low. Despite claiming to represent a new future for the country, the Syrian opposition falls into this category as well.
Legal Status and Protections
New laws implemented by the Autonomous Administration contrast favorably with opposition laws and policies on women’s issues. In North and East Syria, the Women’s Laws address inequities in personal status that existed in Syrian law, and explicitly ban and criminalize child marriages, domestic abuse, and other forms of social inequity and gender-based violence. The region’s constitution states that “men and women are equal in the eyes of the law” and “guarantees the effective realization of equality of women and mandates public institutions to work towards the elimination of gender discrimination.”
In opposition-held regions, no pretense of formal legal equality or legal protections is made. HTS, which controls much of Idlib, excludes women from political bodies and limits their basic freedoms, running gender-segregated schools,enforcing conservative dress codes, and forcing women whose husbands have been killed in the ongoing conflict to move in with a male “guardian.” These policies are enforced by ISIS-like morality police. Activists and civil society organizations that resist them face persecution, and must operate in secret; there is no legal resource for domestic violence, forced marriage, and other gender-based violence under religious law.
In opposition-held regions, no pretense of formal legal equality or legal protections is made. HTS, which controls much of Idlib, excludes women from political bodies and limits their basic freedoms…”
A recent UN report condemned the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army’s treatment of women in areas it has taken over, warning that “by targeting almost every aspect of Kurdish women’s lives…armed groups generated a palpable fear of violence and duress…[which] resulted in an undermining of women’s ability to meaningfully participate and contribute to their community.”
The report stated that these actions— like the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a former economy co-minister and then co-chair of the Syria Future Party targeted by Ahrar al-Sharqiya militants in October— constituted a concentrated attempt to “dismantle” the Autonomous Administration’s efforts to advance the status of women.
As the Index notes, laws and policies that regulate the lives of women and girls can either prepare them for political participation and leadership or act as obstacles to it. It is clear that the Autonomous Administration has done the former— while opposition groups have not been willing to implement such protections, and have even gone so far as to seek to force women out of public life altogether.
Why does it matter?
The Autonomous Administration provides a tried and tested blueprint for women’s political empowerment, a policy priority the opposition lacks. The gap in political and social opportunities for women between areas controlled by each faction is shocking. In areas that the SNA has captured from the SDF, like Afrin, Ras al-Ain, and Tel Abyad, the deterioration of women’s rights and basic personal safety is notable.
However, this dynamic has not factored into discussions on the country’s future, or determination of which factions deserve political and diplomatic support. Opposition groups that marginalize women have not faced any consequences for their actions— and the Autonomous Administration’s empowerment of women has not been discussed as a model for the rest of the country or a project that deserves support. Greater understanding of the fundamental differences on this issue, and the unique advances the Autonomous Administration has made, is essential for ensuring that women can play the role they deserve in all aspects of Syria’s future.
Mazlum Kobanê calls for “radical solution” to the ISIS problem
In a prison in Hesekê, ISIS prisoners instigated a riot on Sunday evening and attempted to escape. SDF Commander General Mazlum Abdi Kobanê demands “radical solution” to the ISIS problem from the international community.
Tuesday, 31 Mar 2020, 13:27
The Commander General of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Mazlum Abdi Kobanê calls on the international community to find a “radical solution” for the ISIS prisoners in North and East Syria. On Sunday evening, detained members of the jihadist militia instigated a riot in a prison in Hesekê. Some managed to escape at first but were later caught. Immediately after the incident, other security forces moved in, the area around the prison was surrounded by SDF anti-terrorist units, and the anti-ISIS coalition supported the intervention by aerial surveillance. Since Monday afternoon, the situation is under control again.
About 5,000 ISIS prisoners from 50 different states are held in the complex in the Xiwêran district. Another 7,000 are held in other prisons in the region, in addition to tens of thousands of ISIS members in various camps. But the autonomous authorities and the SDF are left alone with the problem, the home countries are not meeting their responsibility for their own citizens.
SDF Commander Kobanê says that the burden of the ISIS prisoners should not rest solely on the shoulders of the autonomous administration authorities and their institutions. In a Twitter post, he wrote: Due to great efforts made by our forces and swift intervention against the insubordination of ISIS detainees inside one prison, we were able to avoid catastrophe and take control. No prisoners escaped. Our allies must find a quick radical solution to this international problem.”
Turkish Government cut water supplies on Al-Hasaka city
Turkish Government cut water supplies
A violation of IHL who can be fatal of thousands of people.
On Saturday, Turkish Government cut the flow from a reservoir that supplies water to areas in northeastern Syria’s Hasakah province that the Kurdish-led local authorities control.
The Alouk Water Station is located near the border town of Serekaniye, which Turkey and its militant proxies took control of in October 2019 during Turkey’s so-called “Peace Spring Operation”. Since then, Turkishbacked groups have regularly cut off the water flow. This is confirmed also by a public UNICEF statement, which one claimed the move was the latest in a series of disruptions in water pumping over the past weeks.
The Allouk pumping station, which usually serves more than 460,000 people in and around Hasakah, has not been functional since 30 October 2019. Since then, KRC with other actors has been taking emergency measures to find alternative sources of water for people in the region.
Protecting water resources and infrastructure to ensure a reliable supply of water and electricity to the population is a basic need for the civil population. Water facilities are covered under a number of terms and provisions of international humanitarian law, either by treaty or by customary law.
Starvation as a method of warfare is explicitly prohibited regardless of the nature of the conflict, and the concept of objects essential for the survival of the civilian population includes drinking-water installations and supplies and irrigation works. Immunity for indispensable objects is waived only when these are used solely for the armed forces or in direct support of military action. Even then, the adversaries must refrain from any action, which could reduce the population to starvation or deprive it of essential water.
The water pipeline is still regularly cut off.
More than 460.000 people are without water supply.
The international community have to take a serious step to reduce this catastrophe.
In civil wars, which today account for most of the armed conflicts in the world, the use of water by the belligerent parties constitutes a serious threat to the population concerned. To attack water is to attack an entire way of life and makes access to water well nigh or completely impossible, thereby heightening the risks to the civilian population despite the protection it is granted under international law.
Moreover, a United Nations representative in Syria on Monday said interruption to a key water station in the country’s northeast puts at least 460,000 people at risk as efforts ramp up to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic (or coronavirus) is unprecedented in recent history and is spreading rapidly. It is not only a public health crisis, but also a humanitarian crisis in the making. In war-torn countries, COVID-19 represents a dramatic threat to life. Health system has already been ravaged by violence, and the threat of further strain on health care from the coronavirus is an enormous risk for communities. Plans to prevent and respond to the virus must urgently move forward before it gains a foothold in countries in conflict. Denying hundreds of thousands of people access to water is denying them a basic source of protection against Covid19, given that handwashing is a fundamental means in shielding oneself of the virus.
Meanwhile, the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) replying to a calling by UN Secretary-General, declared a ceasefire in all the area.
The KRC urges all parties to the conflict to declare a ceasefire and to respect civilian life by taking every possible measure to protect and respect civilians and civilian infrastructure.
International Humanitarian Law aims at ensuring that the basic needs of civilians are met, even in times of conflict. In northeast Syria, the infrastructure (e.g. water stations and dams) for water supply systems happen to be located near the frontlines and it is critical that they are protected.
The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols protect sick, wounded and shipwrecked persons not taking part in hostilities, prisoners of war and other detainees, civilians and civilian objects. Military operations must be conducted in accordance with IHL, in particular the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution. Attacking, or rendering useless, objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as water and sanitation facilities, is prohibited.
KRC ask the Turkish Government to allow providing water to areas deprived of it immediately and urgently and to guarantee that no further water interruption is to happen under any pretext.
Owing to these circumstances and due to the critical and dramatic situation due to COVID-19 pandemic, we strongly recommend and ask the UN Security Council an immediate reopening of Yaroubiyeh border.
According to the UN, the border crossing in the past enabled support to an estimated 1.4 million people in northeast Syria.
KRC took it as our humanitarian mandatory to serve all people no matter of their background, nationality, race, religion, gender. However, the International Community have to be aware and to support these activities. We will always continue our work accepting the international humanitarian principles, protecting the ideas of international laws and principles.
Fight against pandemic in the besieged Shehba region
The North Syrian region of Shehba is under a siege. The supply of hygiene materials and medicines is difficult. Under these conditions, the population is trying to fight the pandemic.
ANF – ROJ DENİZ/HÎVDA HEBÛN
Friday, 20 Mar 2020, 14:37
In the desert region of Shehba live 90,000 original inhabitants and about 140,000 displaced people from Afrin. It borders on the areas occupied by Turkey and its militias and is repeatedly the target of artillery fire. The region is also acutely affected by the risk of COVID-19 pandemic. The autonomous administration, the local government and the health committee of Shehba are doing everything in their power to prevent the spread of the pandemic. After the closure of schools and public facilities, all areas are being disinfected.
Even though the Syrian regime has not yet issued a statement on the pandemic, reports of COVID-19 cases in Latakia, Aleppo and Damascus are putting people in fear. The internally displaced persons from Afrin, who live in difficult conditions in the region, are particularly threatened. The co-mayor of the Shehba Municipality, Melek Huseyin, reports that no cases have yet been detected in the region; health committees, communes and councils are active and taking precautions against the virus. Information events are being organised and people are warned through television programmes, brochures and leaflets.
The co-mayor reports on a cleaning campaign in three phases;
The first phase is the cleaning of outside areas and disinfection of all facilities, schools, shops and restaurants.
The second phase will involve the disinfection of all houses, streets, rubbish dumps, the sewage system and mosques.
In the third phase, all streets will be steamed with disinfectant.
The work is to be carried out every 15 days for the next six months.
The co-mayor concludes with the warning: “As you know, Shehba has been a war zone. For this reason, most of the houses have been destroyed, which is not good for health.”
Wide-spread fear and popular discontent prevail NE Syria as SDF release more than 80 ISIS members
Less than a minute
Reliable sources have informed Syrian Observatory that Syria Democratic Forces and “Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria” released more than 80 ISIS members. Those members had been arrested by SDF during the war against ISIS. According to SOHR sources, all released persons are Syrians and descended from Al-Raqqah, Al-Hasakah and Deir Ezzor.
It is noteworthy that some of the released members have served their sentence and some others have not. This action triggered Wide-spread popular discontent for fear that these released members could return to fight in the ranks of ISIS, especially with ISIS members spreading widely in SDF-held areas.
SOHR sources reported early this year that the “Autonomous Administration in northern and north-eastern Syria” and Syria Democratic Forces released ten persons in Al-Hasakah city, after mediation by tribal elders and Sheikhs in the area. The ten persons were arrested earlier on charge of dealing with ISIS.
This action comes few days after the release of at least 39 persons from Deir Ezzor, Al-Haskah and Al-Raqqah, by SDF after mediation by tribal elders and dignitaries. They were arrested for the same accusation.
The release of those persons is a part of the outcomes of a meeting held in early May 2018, between “Syria Democratic Council” and tribe dignitaries.
YPJ: With Newroz’s flame, we will defeat occupation
The General Command of the Women Protection Units YPJ congratulated on March 21, and said, with the flame of Newroz, we will defeat the occupation, pledged to raising the pace of the struggle in the spirit of Newroz.
WOMAN21 Mar 2020, Sat – 14:102020-03-21T14:10:00 NEWS DESK
The General Command of the Women’s Protection Units issued a written statement in which they congratulated Newroz, who falls today, March 21.
The text of the statement states:
We receive Newroz 2020, which has become a symbol of the spring of peoples with a spirit of Resisting Dignity, and we bless Newroz on the martyrs of the revolution, the leader Ocalan, the resisting people, and the peoples of the Middle East and the world.
For thousands of years, the Kurdish people have resisted against the suppression of the occupier, a resistance known through Kawa Hsinkar epic, which the Kurdish, Assyrian, Persian, Turkmen, and Yezidi people have introduced to the new day, celebrating their victory over the oppressors, and in this sense Newroz is not just a celebration, it is a reminder of victory on Dahkan.
As YPJ, we say that the commemoration of Newroz means a renewal of our promise to take revenge, as we have offered thousands of martyrs for the sake of freedom and in the Rojava Revolution, so for this day, raising the pace of the struggle for freedom and existence is for us the greatest promise we can make to Newroz fighters.
Today, more than ever, we must prove our existence in a spirit of resistance to Newroz, in order to protect our identity and our homeland.
In order to defeat Dahkan of the times, everyone must protect themselves, their identity, their existence, their dignity and their homeland by the thought of the leader Ocalan. The Kurdish people have suffered from injustice, from Halabja to the Qamishlo uprising, from the Zilan Valley to the Mahabad and Afrin, and more recently in Ras al-Ain and Tel- Abyed.
The tyrants are still seeking to eliminate the presence of the Kurdish people and the peoples of the region, and therefore heroes and heroines such as Arian Mercan, Ilan, Avista, and more recently Ronahi and Berxwedan sacrificed their lives to revive these peoples, and standing against the massacres and conspiracies committed against them, and this is evidence that thousands of Kawa Today, they are fighting a struggle against Dahkan of the times.
Dignity battles continue to be led by YPJ fighters
This year we celebrate Newroz with the spirit of Ronahi, Zain, Amara, Zylan, Delovan, Bimal, Hefrin and Mother Aqidah, and we are certain that with the organization of women and the struggle, Newroz 2020 will become Newroz’s revenge and historical victory.
We, YPJ, pledge to escalate our struggle with the spirit of Newroz, and we hope that all our days will be like Newroz and that our people will be victorious, and we will bless Newroz once again on our people, and on all free women”.
PYD: Solution in Syria through expel Turkish occupation from occupied areas
The General Council of PYD indicated that the resistance shown by the people of Afrin demonstrated that the truth of defending the revolution lies in adhering to democracy and dignity, noting that there is no real stability and no solution that serves Syria and its people except through the exit of Turkey and those with it from its areas of occupation in the foreground is Afrin.
POLITICS17 Mar 2020, Tue – 13:042020-03-17T13:04:00 NEWS DESK
The General Council of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) issued today a statement of public opinion, on the occasion of the passage of two years since the occupation of Afrin, by the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries.
The text of the statement read:
“These days, the second anniversary of the occupation of Afrin by the Turkish fascism and its tools, which caused the displacement of our people from its cities and villages, and the practice of the most heinous crimes and abuse and demographic change, bypassing all of the agreed rights and norms. In light of the clear deviation of the course of the revolution in Syria and the overlapping of agendas regional and dependency, as well as the emergence of extremist organizations, the revolution has been emptied of its content, while our regions in northern and eastern Syria have maintained a state of stability and contributed to preserving the foundations on which to build change in Syria through the project of Democratic Autonomous Administration DAA and the philosophy of self-defense project and the brotherhood of peoples, where these factors have contributed to the transformation of our regions to prevent the yard danger to Syria and its future as compared to other regions, which met the wrath of some of the parties.
The success of the experience of AA as well as the resistance that took place against the projects of creating chaos, destruction and rivalry in our regions made many forces rally to attack these areas, especially the Turkish state headed by a Syrian spear that is groups with weak Syrian affiliation and with deep loyalty to Turkey, as the failure of these plans on the hands of the people of northern and eastern Syria components pushed Turkey into direct intervention, after its plans went bankrupt through the paid forces and, unfortunately, the Syrian ones.
Afrin was one of the regions that enjoyed free will and developed a democratic project that was distinguished by the pioneering and leadership role of women, and Afrin has become a real attraction for Syrian civilians fleeing the Syrian war zones (more than 450 thousand displaced Syrians were in Afrin before the Turkish attacks). Where Turkey began invading Afrin on 20 January 2018 in order to undermine the state of stability in it and a public attempt to thwart the democratic experience in northern and eastern Syria.
The resistance that our people demonstrated in Afrin came against the expectations, as it was proven that the truth of defending the revolution lies in adhering to democracy and dignity as it appeared in Afrin and before it in Kobani in 2014, these historical resistance strengthened the Kurdish spirit and reinforced true cohesion in Afrin between the four parts of Kurdistan not to mention the volume of echo that the world circulated about the resistance of the times and its continuity for 58 days in the face of a country the size of Turkey that used various types of weapons against a small geographical spot.
Two years after the occupation of Afrin by Turkey and its mercenaries, we confirm the General Council of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) condemning the silence of the world and ignoring what Turkey is doing today in Afrin and the whole of the occupied areas in Syria, we confirm that there is no real stability and no solution that serves Syria and its people except through the exit of Turkey and those with it from the areas of its occupation, especially Afrin. We also appeal to all of our people and all democratic components and forces keen on their moral and patriotic duty to work together to close ranks to confront the Turkish threat and occupation in Syria and the necessity of getting them out.
In conclusion, we extend our sincere appreciation and greetings to our steadfast people in al-Shahba camps and confirm that we continue to struggle with them and the resistance until the liberation of Afrin and the return of its people to it and we recall the heroic resistance of the YPG and YPJ and their great sacrifices, where we all draw from the spirit of the resistance of the age in Afrin our strength and our insistence on the struggle and we affirm that the continuation of the second stage of the resistance until now, and our people in al Shahba cling to the residents of Afrin and clinging to all difficulties for one option is to return to Afrin with their dignity, indicating that the continuous resistance is the path towards victory for Afrin and its people. A great retreat without victory.
We also salute the forces of the liberation of Afrin and their sacrifices and their continued heroic resistance in their struggle on the path of the martyrs of Afrin and its resistance fighters, and we affirm that the resistance continues and we will escalate it and achieve victory in the spirit of the martyrs Avista, Karkar, Barin and all their companions who sacrificed of themselves for the sake of Afrin and its people. “
The statement concluded with slogans, “A salute to the spirit of the martyrs of Afrin and the martyrs of freedom, a tribute to our wounded heroes.
Greetings to our resisting people in Afrin and al-Shahba. “…
Syria is geopolitical prize, Kurds seek new Middle East
The American expert Dr. Thoreau Redcrow has said that Syria is a global chess board. It is not a problem that must be solved from the point of view of the interventionists, but a geopolitical prize to be won. Stressing that Ocalan’s ideas provide a road map “The Kurds will be the first domino to seek a new Middle East for all,” he said.
As the Syrian crisis enters its tenth year the interventionist parties want to prolong the life of this crisis to make the most of it and divide Syria. In this context our agency interviewed the expert Dr. Thoreau Redcrow, an American specialist in international conflicts and Kurdish affairs. The text of the dialogue reads.
1. As the Syrian crisis enters its tenth year. What are the dimensions of the international conflict in it?
Unfortunately for the people of Syria, their country has become a global chessboard where many nations have been pushing their own geopolitical interests through the use of proxy forces. Since the US and Russia/Iran don’t want to fight an open conflict with each other in their own nations, they use Syria as an arena to test each other’s will and commitment. Moreover, Turkey wishes to expand their neo-Ottoman project and is hoping to annex northern Syria for themselves or form some break away territory like Northern Cyprus which they can control. Meanwhile, the Autonomous Administration is attempting to establish their own form of local self-governance built on a multi-ethnic and gender equal vision, that is unique to the wider region.
2. All regional and international parties involved in Syria take the fight against terrorism as an excuse, but what are their real goals?
The term “terrorist” is often times not helpful, as it can be a synonym for “armed opponent”. However, if any group meets the definition as commonly understood then ISIS and al-Qaeda (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham aka HTS) would, and both of them have been armed and assisted by the Turkish Government in Syria. Most groups in Syria at present could say they are battling terrorism by fighting either of these two groups, for instance the SDF/YPG/YPJ and the US Military both have been fighting ISIS, while the Syrian Government and Russia are battling al-Qaeda (HTS) in Idlib. Meanwhile, the one nation that sets up outposts in al-Qaeda territory and doesn’t fight them is Turkey, as HTS are essentially their ground forces in Idlib.
3. Throughout history there has been a Turkish-Iranian war; what is the impact of the Turkish-Iranian conflict on Syria and the future of the region?
I wouldn’t say there’s been a war between the two, in fact I think Iran is the one country in the region which Turkey legitimately fears and doesn’t believe they could defeat in a direct conflict. In the same way that the US and Russia can’t openly fight one another since both possess nuclear weapons, Turkey and Iran both realize that fighting one another directly would badly damage both nations, so they battle in a third party territory through proxy forces (Iran has Hezbollah and Shia militias, while Turkey has various jihadist groups like al-Qaeda / HTS and the defeated remnants of ISIS which they’ve formed into their so called “Syrian National Army”).
4. Erdogan is seeking to establish a Sunni state in the region led by him and that includes parts of Syria that include Aleppo, Raqqa, Deir Ezzor, and Hasaka; why does the international community not cut the road ahead, or is there an international trend to redraw the region again?
The Turkish Army looted the industrial base of Aleppo very early on the conflict, and once they realized that Assad’s Government wouldn’t be overthrown, their Plan B was simply to take as much territory as possible to either form a puppet state like Northern Cyprus, or directly annex and steal the territory from Syria as they already did historically with Hatay. Whether they are allowed to do this will depend if the US supports such land theft, and if Russia is willing to assist the Syrian Government in driving Turkey out from the lands they now illegally occupy. I should add, that Turkey also wanted to keep “Rojava” or the Autonomous Administration early on from spanning the entire border of Turkey and reaching the sea potentially, which is what motivated their invasion and occupation of Afrin and backing of jihadi groups in Idlib.
5. Why has the Syrian crisis not been solved yet? What is the impact of the international conflict on the shape of the Middle East in general?
Syria is not a problem to be solved, but a geopolitical prize to be won. Early on the US was hoping to prevent Russia from having their only Naval Base on the Mediterranean Sea in Tartus if Assad was overthrown, but that plan was unsuccessful. Now, likewise, the Syrian Government is trying to prevent the U.S. from having any airstrips or bases in Eastern Syria within Kurdish areas, which the U.S. is hoping to use to counter Iranian regional influence and the so called “Shia highway” from Beirut to Tehran. This is also taking place in the wider picture of a regional-wide battle for influence across the Middle East between 3 factions, (faction 1) Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Houthis in Yemen vs (faction 2) Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan vs (faction 3) Turkey, Qatar, and Azerbaijan. With the Autonomous Administration and SDF in Syria being neutral with faction 1, gaining support with faction 2, and at war with faction 3. Meanwhile Russia backs faction 1, the US backs faction 2, and both of them at times try to win the favor of faction 3.
6. Kurdish, for how long will the Turkish Kurdish conflict last? What are the main objectives of Turkey to launch attacks on the Kurdish-majority regions of northern and eastern Syria?
The Kurdish conflict will last as long as the 40+ million Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran do not have equal rights to exist as Kurds, and either autonomy or independence in all of the areas in which they live. Turkey’s motivations are first that they have a very deep fear about the 20+ million Kurds within Turkey rising up in mass against their continued occupation and brutality. This fear spills over into Syria, as they fear Kurds in Turkey will take inspiration from their example, and want to establish local governance in a similar manner.
7. Turkey committed grave violations against the Kurds in Syria during its attacks in Afrin, Ras al-Ain and Tel Abyad and caused the displacement of the Kurds from their lands. Why is it not held accountable internationally despite all the documents and evidence?
Turkey is not held accountable because they are in NATO, which means they can carry out war crimes and be shielded from blame. American and Western media also does not cover Turkey’s war crimes in the same way they would if Assad’s Government was carrying them out, because it doesn’t fit with the geopolitical objectives of the US military. The US, UK, and Germany know that if Turkey was held accountable for their war crimes, then the US who sells them the jets, the UK who sells them the missiles, and Germany who sells them the tanks would also be guilty.
8. What is the role of world powers in fueling the Turkish Kurdish conflict? And why does the United Nations and the United States of America not play their role in resolving the Kurdish issue?
Turkey’s constant need for weapons to use in their fight to oppress their Kurdish population is good for business, and makes NATO nations a lot of money. So that’s the first obstacle. The US is also worried that if they forced Turkey to stop oppressing their Kurdish population, the Turkish Government would realign themselves with Russia instead of NATO, which would ruin NATO’s plan of keeping Russia locked into the Black Sea via the Bosporus. As for the United Nations, they are not that interested in solving the Kurdish issue, as then they would also be forced to solve the Tamil, Balochi, Western Sahara, West Papuan, Ambazonia, Basque, Hazara etc issue. Many nations around the world deny the self-determination of new nations because they know it might also apply to occupied groups within their own. That is a box they are afraid to open.
9. Why does the international community not respond to Ocalan’s proposals to solve the Kurdish issue politically away from militarization? Does this have anything to do with the Greater Middle East project?
Ocalan’s ideas are a threat to every nation in the Middle East because they provide an alternative democratic roadmap of how the multi-ethnic mosaic of the region could govern themselves locally, which threatens all of the authoritarian regimes and royal families who use their nations as their personal bank accounts. History shows us that power never gives away their stranglehold easily, they must be made to with force. Luckily the Kurdistan liberation movement has both ideas and arms.
10. How does solving the Kurdish issue affect the problems of the Middle East?
Solving the Kurdish issue would have huge spill over effects for the entire Middle East, as many of the Kurdish groups would like to display an alternative model of democratic governance and defend ideas like religious freedom, and gender equality, which are lacking in much of the region. It’s seen as a Kurdish issue, but it’s really a Middle East issue, as the model that the Kurds want would also appeal to many of the ethnicities in the Middle East as it’s based around local people controlling their own destiny and promoting a sustainable and communal way of life. The Kurds would be the first falling domino to a new Middle East for everyone.
Report: Kurdish population in Afrin dropped to 18 percent
Within two years of Turkish occupation, the Kurdish population in Afrin has dropped to 18 percent. The human rights organization of Afrin has presented a report on ethnic cleansing and other violations of rights.
Tuesday, 17 Mar 2020, 20:20
In March 2018 Afrin was occupied by the Turkish state. The human rights organization of Afrin has presented a report on the violations of rights during the past two years. The report was publicly read out by Heyhan Ali in the Serdem camp in Shehba.
According to the report, more than 300,000 people from Afrin were displaced by the Turkish invasion to the neighbouring canton of Shehba and other places in Syria. The Kurdish population in Afrin has dropped to 18 percent. In the course of the demographic change, jihadists from Idlib and other areas were settled with their families in Afrin.
Heyhan Ali explained that the “Turkification policy” is being further advanced in Afrin. Places and streets have been given Turkish names. For example, the Kawa crossroads, whose name refers to the Kawa the Blacksmith from the Newroz myth, has been renamed Olive Branch Crossroads. “Olive branch” was the name Turkey had given to its invasion two years ago, which was contrary to international law. Today, Turkish language classes are given in schools in Afrin. According to the report, the new school uniforms represent “the Turkish culture”. Pictures of Turkish President Erdogan hang in many places. Turkish identity cards are being forced upon the people in Afrin.
6,200 people kidnapped
In Afrin, according to the human rights organisation, 6,200 people have been forcibly abducted. The fate of 3,400 abduction victims is unknown.
Attacks against women
Women are particularly affected by the occupation regime in Afrin. The human rights organisation has documented 61 cases of attacks against women. The suicide rate of women has also increased since the occupation. Three women have committed suicide after being attacked by jihadists.
553 civilians killed
According to the report, 553 civilians have been killed by direct attacks of the Turkish state and its jihadist proxies. 55 of the victims were tortured to death.
200,000 olive trees cut down
The report states that not only the civilian population and their property are affected by the systematic attacks, but also nature and historical and sacred sites. Heyhan Ali stated that over 200,000 olive trees have been cut down and 11,000 hectares of cultivated land burned: “The green nature of Afrin has become a desert. The tree trunks were brought to Turkey for recycling.
75 historical sites plundered
75 historical sites have been looted by the occupying forces, according to the report. Dozens of mosaics were removed. In addition, 15 graves, which were sacred to various religious communities, were destroyed.
Before the eyes of the world public
Heyhan Ali concluded by pointing out that these crimes take place in front of the eyes of the world public. The human rights organisation called on the UN to fulfil its responsibility and to remove the Turkish state with its jihadist proxies from Syria.
ISIS standards in Girê Spî: Women forced to veil themselves
In Girê Spî in northern Syria, standards similar to those once established under the rule of the ISIS in Raqqa are gradually being introduced under Turkish occupation. Women are no longer allowed to leave the house without full body cover.
Friday, 20 Mar 2020, 15:15
In the city of Girê Spî (Tal Abyad) in northern Syria, which has been occupied since October 2019 by Turkey and its jihadist allies with the de facto approval of the US, Russia and the European Union, standards similar to those once established under the rule of the ISIS in Raqqa are gradually being introduced. In many places, women are now no longer allowed to leave the house without full body cover and male company. In neighbouring settlement areas such as the town of Siluk and the village of Hemam al-Turkmen, the veil obligation is also enforced.
Girê Spî and the surrounding areas are largely controlled by the Turkish-backed jihadist militia Ahrar al-Sharqiya – the mercenary group that executed Kurdish politician and Secretary General of the Future Party of Syria (Hizbul Suri Mustakbel), Hevrîn Xelef (Havrin Khalaf), and her driver.
New living space for ISIS mentality
The houses of the Kurds expelled from Girê Spî are now occupied by the occupation troops and members of jihadists who had been brought to the city from other regions of the Turkish occupation zone in northern Syria. In the meantime, every Kurdish business has been expropriated without exception. The situation is no different for Syrian internally displaced persons. Their businesses have now also been confiscated.
The situation for young people is also critical. The so-called “military police” under the command of the Turkish army wants to increase their ranks and is luring with money. Because of the lack of prospects under the occupation, human rights organisations fear that young men will be recruited by the militias because they see no other choice for their survival.
People can no longer afford basic food
Due to the looting and destruction of the infrastructure during the Turkish invasion, there are still bottlenecks in the supply of basic goods such as water, bread and food in Girê Spî. Prices have risen dramatically. Many people can already no longer afford basic foodstuffs. In addition, kidnappings by the occupying forces to extort ransom money are increasing. This method represents a lucrative source of income.
TURKISH PROVISION OF MATERIAL SUPPORT TO AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS IN IDLIB:
[The Rojava Information Center (RIC) is an independent media
organization based in North and East Syria. The RIC is made up
of local staff as well as volunteers from many countries across
Europe and North America. Some of us have experience in journalism
and media activism and came here to share our skills,
and others joined bringing other skills and experiences to the
team. There is a lack of clear and objective reporting on Rojava,
and journalists are often unable to make contact with ordinary
civilians and people on the ground. We set up the RIC to fill this
gap, aiming to provide journalists, researchers and the general
public with accurate, well-sourced, transparent information.
We work in partnership with civil and political institutions, journalists
and media activists across the region to connect them
with the people and information they need.
RIC has assisted reporters and researchers from all leading international
newspapers, websites and news sources with their
work, including: BBC, CNN, ITV, NBC, Fox News, ABC and Al Jazeera;
New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal,
LA Times; Die Welt, Die Zeit, El Pais, El Monde, Corriere Della
Sera: TFI, France 24, ZDF, ARD, DW, ARTE; Associated Press, AFP,
DPA, EFE, ANSA; Cambridge, Yale and Madrid Universities; Amnesty,
Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations: and many
other national and international news sources.]
This dossier will briefly examine the evolving relationship between Turkey and
al-Qaeda offshoots and proxies in Idlib, in particular HTS, before compiling visual
evidence of the proliferation of armored vehicles and heavy weaponry among
these groups in Idlib province.
1.1 GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB
1.1.1 Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)
1.1.2 Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP)
1.1.3 Hurras ad-Din (HaD)
1.1.4. National Front for Liberation (NLF) and Syrian National Army (SNA)
1.2 HTS AND OTHER GROUPS – LINKS TO AL-QAEDA
1.3 HTS AND OTHER GROUPS – LINKS TO ISIS
1.4 TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS AND OTHER AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS IN IDLIB
1.4.1 The situation in Idlib: creeping Turkish control and influence
1.4.2 Joint Turkish-HTS operations room
1.4.3 Turkish proliferation of armor and heavy weapons among
1.4.4 The MANPADS question
2 VISUAL EVIDENCE OF TURKISH MATERIAL SUPPORT
FOR HTS AND OTHER AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS
3 CONCLUSION: POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
3.1 Taking up the offer of support from North and East Syria
3.2 Supporting the political process towards a federal solution in Syria
3.3 Bringing an end to Turkish support for al-Qaeda-linked militias
During the Syrian Arab Army’s latest advance in north-western Syria, ongoing
since 19 December 2019 and entailing the capture of over 2000km² of land to
the south and east of Idlib city, international condemnation has focused on the
immense humanitarian cost of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian bombing
campaign and the displacement of up to a million civilian IDPs.
The context of the bloody war being waged by the SAA notwithstanding, it is important
that Western policy-makers maintain a clear eye when scrutinizing the
opposition in Idlib and in particular Turkey’s increased involvement in co-ordinating,
arming, fighting alongside and proliferating man-portable anti-aircraft defence
systems (MANPADS) throughout territory controlled by al-Qaeda offshoot
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), with potentially disastrous consequences for American
and global security.
Turkey variously seeks to justify its actions in Idlib as support for the legitimate
Syrian opposition; as humanitarian intervention; and even as an act of self-defence
against the Kurdish forces which have no presence whatsoever in Idlib governate.
The waters are further muddied by Russian disinformation efforts which,
in effectively insisting that everyone in Idlib is a legitimate target, ironically make
it more difficult for objective commentators to make their voices heard on the
true situation in the province.
The reality is that no meaningful secular opposition remains in Idlib, now controlled
by al-Qaeda offshoots of varying hue, and moreover that Turkey has little
interest in either defending the civilian population of Idlib, or the secular values
of elements of the original Syrian revolution.
Rather, Turkey is using the conflict in Idlib to advance its own interests, extending
its geographical and military sphere of influence deep into Syrian territory
through increasingly open and reckless collaboration with HTS – despite the fact
that HTS are listed by the Turkish government themselves as a terror organisation.
Thus we see jihadist militants sporting ISIS’ Seal of Muhammad logo riding
in US-made armored vehicles – not seized in war, but handed to them by the US’
NATO partner, Turkey.
Turkey’s current approach offers the worst of both worlds. While unlikely to make
any significant impact on the Russian advance and inevitable recapture of Idlib,
the provision of high-end military equipment to HTS will have devastating security
consequences for the US and its partners across the world. As such, we will
close with brief policy recommendations on how the situation in Idlib may be
resolved to ensure a safe and secure existence for civilians and IDPs, the removal
of the international security threat posed by HTS and the neutralization of Turkish
moves to arm and support this listed terror group, and a process of accountability
for the Syrian Government and its backers.
Fighters sporting ISIS insignia ride in an armored vehicle provided to them by NATO partner Turkey
There are three main groupings of armed factions present
in Idlib, namely:
1. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and associates, most notably the
Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), professedly independent
though still understood to maintain ties with al-Qaeda;
2. Hurras ad-Din and associates, al-Qaeda’s direct proxy
in Syria which itself works in coordination with HTS; and
3. Factions grouped under the National Front for Liberation
(NFL), long under heavy Turkish influence and
incorporated into the Turkish-controlled Syrian National
Army as of October 20191.
We will examine each of these groupings in turn, giving a
brief summary of their history and relationship to one another,
before moving on to discuss their relationship with
al-Qaeda, ISIS and Turkey.
1.1 GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB
1.1.1 HAYAT TAHRIR AL-SHAM (HTS)
The dominant faction in Idlib is HTS, a Sunni Islamist group which is dominated
by the former Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda’s original proxy force in Syria following
their split from ISIS) and hardline elements from Ahrar-al-Sham2. HTS can field
a reported 15,000 to 30,000 fighters, a majority of whom are former al-Nusra
Al-Nusra itself operated as the official Syrian branch of al-Qaeda from the outset
and committed acts of torture, child abduction, and summary execution – including
stoning to death women accused of committing adultery – as part of ‘a
strict interpretation of Sharia law… imposing punishments amounting to torture.’4
Al-Nusra also executed at least 20 members of the Druze minority who opposed
a campaign of forced expropriation of their houses and destruction of their religious
During the latest operation, HTS fighters have filmed themselves with decapitated heads of rival combatants,
and filmed themselves torturing captives
GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB INTRODUCTION
As of June 2013, al-Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 of the 70 suicide
attacks in Syria during the conflict, along with mass executions and other atrocities6.
HTS itself claimed a 2017 twin bombing in Damascus that killed at least 40
people, the majority of them Iraqi Shia pilgrims7.
HTS describes itself as a military force, but retains tight control on civil society
through its ‘Salvation Government’ and system of sharia courts, often staffed by
individuals with no formal legal training or even training in sharia law. Much like
ISIS, HTS conducts morality patrols, arresting young women for failing to follow
religious dress codes; young men for shaving or listening to music; and civilian
activists for any activity in opposition to HTS’ de facto control of Idlib. HTS’s religious
police, known as ‘Sawid Al Khayr’, enforce dress codes and the segregation
of males and females on buses and in the streets8.
HTS conduct public executions for witchcraft and heresy – as well as of ISIS members9.
Human Rights Watch has documented consistent arbitrary detention and
torture of civil society activists who sought to document HTS abuses or protest
their rule, as well as assassinations and the restriction of humanitarian aid to
civilians living under its rule10. Local human rights organisations have documented
184 such cases in the space of three months11, while HTS has also conducted
widespread confiscations of Christian property12.
The US and Turkey designated the group a foreign terrorist organization affiliated
with al-Qaeda in 2018, at which time it was also sanctioned by the UN13.
INTRODUCTION GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB HTS
TIP GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB INTRODUCTION
1.1.2 TURKESTAN ISLAMIC PARTY (TIP)
In a still from a recent Turkestan Islamic Party propaganda video from Idlib, children in military uniform receive
ideological indoctrination on the role of the mujahidin [Islamic warriors]
The TIP is an Uyghur Salafist-jihadist group which has spent decades fighting for
an independent Sunni state in Xinjiang, western China. It has killed hundreds in
its bombing campaigns and, since 2002, been sanctioned by the UN due to its ties
Since 2015, the organization has sent fighters to Syria to participate in the conflict
via front organizations based in Turkey, and currently fields around 5,000 fighters
in Idlib16. They operated in close coordination with Jabhat al-Nusra, and continue
to do so with HTS. As well as killing Christians and desecrating their churches,
the TIP is notable for its extensive – and often openly advertised – deployment of
Chechen Caucasus and Uzbek al-Qaeda proxy organisations are similarly present
in Idlib, operating in coordination with HTS.
INTRODUCTION GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB
1.1.3 HURRAS AD-DIN (HAD)
HaD are the official al-Qaeda proxy group in Idlib and Syria, breaking away from
HTS in 201818. As the group maintaining the most overt ties with al-Qaeda, they
have faced targeted US airstrikes against their senior leadership, and former ISIS
emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was being sheltered by HaD elements when he was
assassinated by the United States in 201919.
They field several thousand fighters and maintain military co-ordination with
HTS, despite some disagreements (see below).
1.1.4 NATIONAL FRONT FOR LIBERATION (NLF)
& SYRIAN NATIONAL ARMY (SNA)
There are also militant groups in Idlib under the direct command, control and
influence of the Turkish government. The National Front for Liberation (NFL) incorporates
a score or so of factions of varying size, with dominant forces including
the Sham Legion, Ahrar al-Sham, Suqqour al-Sham, Jaysh al-Ahrar and Nour
ad-Din al-Zenki Movement remnants.
In October 2019, immediately prior to its invasion of North and East Syria, Turkey
incorporated the NFL and the Syrian National Army (SNA) – another Turkish-
armed, controlled and funded umbrella organisation which has its base of
operations in Turkish-occupied regions of Syria including Afrin, Bab, Jarabalus and
now Sere Kaniye and Tel Abyad – into one command structure20. SNA elements
have entered Idlib to participate in the current conflict, while NFL elements have
also passed via Turkish soil to participate in Turkish offensives against the SDF
and territories controlled by the Autonomous Administration of North and East
Directly Turkish-controlled groups in north-west Syria are not ideologically homogenous,
ranging from Salafist jihadists through to opportunists seeking to
profit from the war, though they are united in their execrable human rights records.
The militias Turkey has united under its control have been accused of war crimes
by the UN and Amnesty International, including raping women, carrying out mass
killings against Kurdish civilians, torturing, electrocuting, executing and parading
caged civilians in the streets as a human shield21. Turkish-backed militias often
worked alongside the al-Nusra Front, and together “applied a strict interpretation
of Shari’a and imposed punishments amounting to torture or other ill-treatment
for perceived infractions,” as well as torturing and disappearing lawyers and civil
Turkey also used SNA and to a lesser extent NLF forces as its proxies during its
2018 and 2019 invasions of Afrin, Sere Kaniye and Tel Abyad, killing hundreds and
displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians23/24. Those who survived have faced
summary rule by Turkish-backed militias imposing sharia law, kidnapping, torturing
and executing civilians, and committing human rights violations possibly
amounting to war crimes, along with an ongoing policy of forcible demographic
change in regions formerly populated by Kurds, Yazidis and Christian minorities25/
Per a 2020 UN report, Turkish-backed groups have committed war crimes across
areas under their control, constituting “myriad violations of human rights and
international humanitarian law by SNA fighters, using language comparing their
“enemies” to “infidels”, “atheists” & “pigs” when referring to civilians, detainees &
property…“, the displacement of the entire Yazidi population in Sere Kaniye and
large swathes of the Kurdish population, the expropriation and looting of schools,
businesses, bakeries, olive groves, vehicles, agricultural tools, “the war crime of
murder and repeatedly the war crime of pillaging… hostage-taking, cruel treatment
and torture… these violations may entail criminal responsibility for Turkish
commanders who knew or should have known about these crimes.”27
NLF/SNA GROUPS PRESENT IN IDLIB INTRODUCTION
Rojava Information Center and Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights have
documented over 100 former ISIS
fighters and commanders now part of
1.2 HTS AND OTHER GROUPS:
LINKS TO AL-QAEDA
The US position on HTS is clear
– yet NATO partner Turkey is
now supplying HTS with heavy
Though HTS insists it is independent from al-Qaeda, the UN, the US and Turkey
all continue to regard it as associated with the international terror organization28.
Internationally speaking, al-Qaeda’s use of proxy groups is on the increase. In
2018, it carried out a total of 316 attacks around the world, according to data
collected by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project29. Its proxies have
killed hundreds including an attack in Mogadishu in 2017 that left 600 dead, while
as noted above HTS themselves have claimed terror attacks killing scores of civilians30.
In brief, HTS emerged as a merger dominated by Jabhat al-Nusra (including its
commander-in-chief, al-Qaeda operative Abu Mohammed al-Jolani), hardline Ahrar-
al-Sham elements and other jihadist groups in Idlib. As Jabhat al-Nusra, the
group openly declared allegiance to al-Qaeda31,while a subsequent rebranding to
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham did not change the reality that senior al-Qaeda members
are embedded throughout the group’s command structure.
INTRODUCTION LINKS TO AL-QAEDA
As such, the establishment of HTS was widely seen as a rebranding exercise, with
the US Embassy issuing a statement to the effect that “the United States is not
fooled by this al-Qaeda affiliate’s attempt to rebrand itself.”32 Prominent al-Qaeda-
linked individuals and designated terrorists joined the group following its formation.
More broadly, despite paying lip-service to reform and moderation in recent
months, HTS continues to violently crush dissent and apply a strict interpretation
of sharia law in the area under its jurisdiction (see above).
Per US think-tank Soufan, “HTS maintained links with al-Qaeda’s loyalists in northern
Syria and even allocated areas and resources for its supposed rivals… While
HTS proclaims that it is an independent entity not affiliated with al-Qaeda, the
organisation grew out of al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, following a
series of strategic rebrandings. Throughout its numerous iterations, HTS has not
altered its ideology and is still widely thought to maintain links with al-Qaeda.”33
Senior al-Qaeda figures embedded in the Syrian organization’s command structure
have continued to be assassinated by the United States via strikes on Idlib34/35.
It is important to note that al-Qaeda’s ‘official’ representative in Idlib and Syria
is now HaD, and moreover that HaD and HTS have come into occasional, albeit
limited, conflict. These conflicts, however, were resolved through dialog mediated
by senior al-Qaeda figures, and the groups reconciled under the aegis of al-Qaeda36.
Practically speaking, HaD and HTS operate together on the battlefield
against the SAA (see below), and HaD are only able to operate in Idlib as a result
of HTS’ blessing, logistical support and coordination.
Recent conciliatory statements by Jolani towards the West do not change the reality
that HTS and al-Qaeda at the least share a common ideology and history, that
HTS leadership is full of known al-Qaeda elements, and that the groups engage in
strategic and military coordination in north-west Syria.
LINKS TO AL-QAEDA INTRODUCTION
1.3 HTS AND OTHER GROUPS:
LINKS TO ISIS
Jabhat Al-Nusra and ISIS (then known as the Islamic State of Iraq) both emerged
as al-Qaeda proxy forces, in Syria and Iraq respectively. By 2013, Jolani’s al-Nusra
and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s ISIS were clashing with one another, with Jolani
swearing loyalty to al-Qaeda while Baghdadi attempted to subsume the Nusra
Front into ISIS. There are significant strategic, tactical, and to a lesser extent theological
differences between ISIS and what is now HTS. On the one hand, then,
al-Nusra and its later incarnation HTS have been involved in armed conflict with
ISIS. Open conflict between the two groups left hundreds dead in 2014, after
which their spheres of influence coalesced in separate areas of Syria37.
INTRODUCTION LINKS TO ISIS
Fighters wearing ISIS insignia are a common sight among the ranks of HTS and other groups which receive
Until at least 2019, ISIS sleeper cells continued to operate against – and were captured
and executed by – HTS, in HTS areas of control38.
However, it must not be forgotten that both HTS and ISIS originated as al-Qaeda
proxies, that they subscribe to broadly similar Salafist ideologies, and that
they have used similarly brutal methods both in enforcing these ideologies on
populations under their control and in seeking to expand their sphere of influence39.
As such, it is unsurprising that many former ISIS members have travelled
to north-western Syria to join HTS and Turkish-controlled groups there.
The Rojava Information Center has documented the names and biographies of
over 40 former ISIS members now part of Turkish-controlled forces in north-western
Syria, while the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights has similarly recorded
the identities of over 70 former ISIS members now part of Turkish-controlled forces
in their new zone of occupation east of the Euphrates40. They include former
emirs, commanders and those responsible for coordinating jihadist fighters with
their handlers in the Turkish military intelligence services (MIT).
Turkish toleration of former ISIS elements in the ranks of factions under its direct
control is an open secret. Just as we are seeing now in Idlib, their 2018 and 2019
invasions of Kurdish regions of northern Syria featured scores of identifiable former
ISIS members making use of Turkish armor and heavy weaponry, in some instances
while openly displaying ISIS insignia. Turkish-backed groups openly filmed
themselves ‘liberating’ ISIS-linked detainees from detention facilities operated by
the SDF, and hundreds of ISIS-linked individuals were able to escape from at least
three secure facilities as a result of Turkey’s 2019 invasion east of the Euphrates41.
Idlib itself “also plays host to relocated ISIS fighters and dependents,” per a UN
report published in February 202042. The most notable instance is of course Abu
Bakr al-Baghdadi, who was able to cross into Idlib during ISIS’ demise as a territorial
entity and was being sheltered by a HaD commander at the time of his assassination
by the USA. More broadly, ISIS militants who managed to escape the final
operation to eradicate their physical caliphate – or those able to pay smugglers to
LINKS TO ISIS INTRODUCTION
flee SDF detention facilities – inevitably
head for north-western Syria, either to
Idlib or to Turkish-controlled regions.
As can be seen below, ISIS insignia are
on common display in Idlib, with an
ISIS-style Seal of Muhammed in identical
stylization and font often to be
seen proudly sported by fighters using
Some pro-HTS commentators have
sought to downplay the significance of
this insignia, arguing it is a long-standing
Muslim symbol not specifically tied
to ISIS: but the layout and stylization
used by mujahidin [Islamic warriors] in
Idlib is invariably a carbon-copy of ISIS’ black standard. No actors in the Syrian
Civil War are unaware of its significance either locally or globally, and its omnipresence
in Idlib provides the clearest visual indication possible of the ideological
stance of those armed groups Turkey is backing, arming and funding in Idlib.
Indeed, former ISIS members are even more prominent among the supposedly
less-radical groups which Turkey directly, openly supports and controls than they
are among the ranks of HTS, their old rivals in jihad. The scores of former ISIS
members identified by RIC and SOHR among the ranks of Turkish-backed factions
are just the tip of the iceberg.
Turkey provided heavy weapons, including armor, to
extremist SNA factions like Jaysh-al-Islam during their
2019 invasion of North and East Syria
Turkish-backed fighters openly bragged in propaganda videos like the one pictured about using Turkish armor to
‘liberate’ ISIS-linked individuals from SDF detention facilities
INTRODUCTION LINKS TO ISIS
IDLIB TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS INTRODUCTION
1.4 TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS
AND OTHER AL-QAEDA-LINKED
GROUPS IN IDLIB
1.4.1 THE SITUATION IN IDLIB:
CREEPING TURKISH CONTROL
As outlined above, Turkey’s relationship with jihadist groups in Idlib ranges from
direct support, arming, funding and issuing commands through a deliberately
opaque relationship with HTS to a relatively distant engagement with Hurras-ad-
Simplest to define is the relationship between Turkey and those factions directly
under its control – that is, the NLF in Idlib, now incorporated into the SNA command
structure following their aforementioned merger in October 2019, and the
SNA in Turkish-occupied regions to the north. A cursory investigation of the command
and control structure of jihadist factions in the SNA, such as Ahrar-al-Sharqiya,
Jaysh-al-Islam and Sultan Murad, shows that responsibility flows directly up
to the TAF – and by extension their commander-in-chief, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
These factions are technically subordinate to the Syrian Interim Government, a
Turkish-sponsored body which lobbies on behalf of the SNA in Geneva and other
foreign capitals. In practice, they are trained, armed, funded and commanded by
the Turkish government. The SNA number “at least 35,000 full-time fighters, all
under the near-total control of Turkey’s Ministry of Defense and National Intelligence
Organization (MIT).” 43
In areas under nominal SNA control, they are granted limited autonomy to plunder
and extort money from the local population. But real power is retained by
Turkey, through direct control of local political bodies, top-down exploitation of
economic resources, and governance through proxies “dependent on Turkey’s
political, economic and military backing for their survival.”
On the battlefield, likewise, the SNA take their commands directly from Turkey.
A recent piece of in-depth research by Elizabeth Tsurkov, speaking to multiple
sources within the ranks of the SNA,
confirmed: “All decisions, big and small,
in the ‘National Army’ are made by the
operations room run by Turkish intelligence.”
While Turkey’s control of the Idlibbased
NLF is less total than its control of
the SNA, it has nonetheless been able
to establish an “influential client-proxy
relationship with the NLF by offering its
groups a rear base, having them participate
in Turkish operations in Afrin
and in the Azaz-Jarabulus corridor, and
providing them with equipment, training
and salaries.”45 The October 2019
merger constituted a further solidification
of Turkish control over the NLF,
illustrated by the participation of NLF
elements – most notably Faylaq-al-Sham
and Jaysh-al-Ahrar – in the execution
of Turkish policy objectives against
2018 saw clashes between NLF and
HTS, with HTS objecting to the extension
of Turkish control and influence
into its zone of control in Idlib.
INTRODUCTION TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS IDLIB
Less ideologically extreme than HTS, the Turkish-controlled
SNA nonetheless committed multiple atrocities
during their invasion of NE Syria, including this field
HTS were the victors in that conflict, with NLF forced to sign a cease-fire agreement,
but since 2019 the Turkish-backed grouping and HTS have operated together
jointly to fight against the SAA under HTS’ aegis.
Turkey’s relationship with HTS, then, is a more complex question. As noted above,
Turkey initially listed HTS as a terror group, but over the years their relationship
has evolved into one of mutual co-dependency, with Turkey of course retaining
technical and military superiority but at the same time recognizing HTS’ territorial
dominance in Idlib. HTS is too powerful, in other words, to merely be considered
as a Turkish proxy: it has other sponsors and backers, and the jihadi organization
is able to exert a certain influence on Turkish policy in Idlib, rather than merely
following Turkish orders as in the case of the SNA. As such, Turkey’s increasing
trust in and cooperation with the Salafist-jihadist organization has alarmed observers
who fear Turkey is handing power, influence – and lethal weaponry – to
an organization it cannot expect to control.
The gradual extension of Turkey’s military operation in Idlib began with occasional
minor clashes with HTS, but as Turkey became entrenched in observation
posts so they began a tacit relationship with the dominant grouping in Idlib.
HTS guarded Turkish convoys as they entered Idlib and permitted Turkey to operate
within its zone of control. By May 2019, HTS and the NLF were coordinating
their attacks and the use of heavy weaponry, including anti-armor missiles, from
a joint operation room. HTS’ total control of Idlib means that Turkey’s extensive
operations in the region cannot take place without HTS’ express knowledge, approval
A Chatham House research paper summarizes this evolution well:
“Hostility between HTS and Turkey has turned into a form of peer-to-peer coordination.
This was clear when HTS allowed Turkish patrols to enter territories under
its control and protected Turkish observation points in northern Syria, despite
previously expressing disapproval at their presence. This nascent coordination
turned into wide-ranging cooperation, with HTS exclusively facilitating Turkish
logistics and military operations in the north. The group prevented any other
armed group being involved except with itself as an intermediary. Even Faylaq
al-Sham, which had been very close to Turkey, cannot liaise with the Turks without
the approval or agreement of HTS.”46
IDLIB TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS INTRODUCTION
1.4.2 JOINT TURKISH-HTS
From 2019 until the present day, Hurras-al-Din, HTS and Turkey’s NLF and SNA all
coordinate their operations in Idlib, meaning that Turkey is in coordination with
al-Qaeda’s appointed proxy in Syria, as well as al-Qaeda-linked HTS47, through its
Since Spring 2019, the NLF and HTS have been operating together via an operations
room known as “al-Fatih al-Mubeen”, thus uniting the Turkish-controlled
and al-Qaeda-linked forces in a single fighting coalition48.
HTS upload images of Turkish-provided armor through their official channels – but refer to ‘al-Fatih al-Mubeen’
operations room as a figleaf.
INTRODUCTION TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS OPERATIONS ROOM
This operation room has not been prominently featured in either Turkish or
al-Qaeda media, with neither HTS nor Turkey wishing to draw attention to the
increasing extent of their cooperation. In particular, the NLF do not mention this
operations room in their own propaganda published through their own channels.
It appears that Turkey’s NLF units have been merged with HTS units. HTS media
originally only covered HTS, and not NLF and other Turkish-backed units, but
NLF and even SNA units now appear in HTS propaganda videos. It is likely for
this reason that most of the combatants in footage released by HTS propaganda
channels have now removed their patches, in order to disguise the extent of collaboration
between Turkish-backed and HTS forces.
On HTS’ behalf, meanwhile, the new operations room serves as a figleaf to cover
Turkish supply of armaments to the al-Qaeda-linked group – presumably at Turkish
request. That is, HTS still refer to their own units as the ‘Mujahidin of [Hayat]
Tahrir al-Sham’ in videos without any Turkish armor or weapons pictured, but
when Turkish armor is included in the shot they refer to the new operations room
Hurras-ad-Din and other smaller, hard-line Salafist groups in Idlib have their own
operations room, ‘Incite the Believers’. As outlined above, this separate operations
room operates in coordination with the dominant faction HTS49, who in turn
are in coordination with Turkey.
In videos where HTS’ new
Turkish supplies aren’t visible,
they continue to refer
to themselves as ’the Mujahidin
of Tahrir al-Sham’
OPERATIONS ROOM TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS INTRODUCTION
1.4.3 TURKISH PROLIFERATION OF
ARMOR AND HEAVY WEAPONS
AMONG AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS
INTRODUCTION TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS
Following the escalated SAA and Russian operation against HTS starting December
2019, and Turkey’s well-documented intervention alongside HTS, the extent
of Turkey’s support for al-Qaeda-linked groups has dramatically increased. Turkey
has both provided HTS with heavy weapons and armored vehicles for the
first time, and proliferated high-end weapons systems throughout territory under
Turkey’s provision of armor to HTS and other extremist factions marks a serious escalation. Note the ISIS flag
being worn by this HTS militant
AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS INTRODUCTION
The following section of this report will provide visual evidence of HTS fighters
and members of other extremist organizations in Idlib – in some cases openly
sporting the ISIS-style Seal of Muhammed – making use of Turkish-provided armored
vehicles, fighting under the cover of Turkish grad salvos, and otherwise
benefiting from Turkey’s deployment of tanks, armored vehicles, rocket launcher
systems and special forces into the Idlib region.
Turkey has supplied its proxies with small arms, mortars and anti-tank guided
missiles in large amounts. Despite protestations to the contrary from pro-Turkish
propaganda channels, visual evidence clearly indicates that HTS and other al-Qaeda-
linked factions including the TIP are making use of Turkish armor to launch
their latest assaults, including American-made M113 personnel carriers sold to
Turkey and then provided to the al-Qaeda offshoots.
Weapons systems such as ‘GRAD’ Multiple Rocket Launcher Systems (MRLS) may
have not been handed directly to HTS, but are certainly being put to joint use by
HTS and the NLF via their joint operations rooms50. Again, HTS propaganda footage
shows them advancing under the cover of GRAD fire, while at least one piece
of propaganda footage shared by HTS shows fighters loading up Turkish-marked
GRAD missiles. Even where these heavy armaments remain in the hands of Turkish-
dominated groups in the NLF, they are being put to joint use with HTS, while
their proliferation through HTS territory means they may well fall into HTS hands.
Finally, as a recent review from the Soufan Center thinktank noted, “While Turkey
prefers to support rebels from the National Liberation Front and the Syrian National
Army, HTS remains an effective fighting force. Turkey has supplied its proxies
with a range of weaponry, including small-arms, mortars, and anti-tank guided
missiles (ATGMs). There are growing concerns that the chaos in northwestern
Syria is allowing the al-Qaeda-linked Hurras ad-Din to rebuild its network, one
that could potentially seek to launch external operations against the West.”51
1.4.4 THE MANPADS QUESTION
Perhaps most serious is Turkey’s proliferation of man-portable air-defence systems
(MANPADS) throughout the Idlib region. A MANPADS can be used to shoot
down a helicopter, low-flying jet or civilian airliner, and these systems ending up
in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked terrorists would be an unmitigated disaster52.
As such, Turkey is tightly controlling information about the proliferation of these
systems in Idlib. In at least one incident in February, HTS claimed a MANPADS
strike which took down an SAA helicopter53. There is no visual evidence to date
of MANPADS in HTS hands, and in those pieces of footage which have leaked out
of MANPADS being used in Idlib it appears to be TAF commandos operating the
Nonetheless, with the situation in Idlib highly volatile, Turkey’s proliferation of
these lethal systems into territory held by HTS means it is increasingly likely that
al-Qaeda-linked groups will get their hands on these lethal weapons systems, capable
of shooting down airliners.
INTRODUCTION TURKISH SUPPORT FOR HTS MANPADS
2 VISUAL EVIDENCE OF TURKISH
MATERIAL SUPPORT FOR HTS
& OTHER AL-QAEDA-LINKED GROUPS
When: 29 February
What: HTS fighters using a US-built M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
When: 27 February
What: HTS fighters wearing the ISIS patch
using a US-built M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
Where: Kuffar Awid, Idlib
When: 29 February
What: Militiamen wearing the insignia of HTS militia Jaysh
abu-Bakr al-Sidiq using a US-made built M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: HTS media operative Mohammed Othman
Where: Idlib Governate
When: 20 February
What: HTS loading Turkish-marked MRLS (GRAD) missiles
Equipment supplied: MRLS missiles
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
Where: Abin Selman
When: 13 February
What: Advancing under cover of GRAD rocket salvo
Equipment supplied: GRAD launcher
Source: Video shot by Turkish-backed forces,
supplied to journalist Lindsay Snell
Where: Mayzanaz and Kafr Halab, west Aleppo
When: 16 February
What: HTS fighters using US-made M113,
fighter wearing ISIS patch visible in same video
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: HTS-linked Insight media
When: 26 February
Who: Turkestan Islamic Party
What: Using Turkish-supplied armored vehicles
Equipment supplied: ACV-15
Source: TIP channel
Where: Eastern Idlib
When: 20 February
What: Using US-made M113 and Turkish-supplied ACV-15
Equipment supplied: ACV-15 (rear of first image), M113 (second image)
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
Where: Nayrab, Eastern Idlib
When: 24 February
What: HTS using US-made M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel); pro-NLF media
When: 20 February
What: HTS using Turkish-supplied ACV-15
Equipment supplied: ACV-15
Source: SNA channels
Where: al-Narb, Idlib
When: 21 February
What: HTS using Turkish-supplied M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: A24 News Agency
When: 26 February
What: ‘the mujahidin of HTS’ in US-made M113
Equipment supplied: M113
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
Where: Kafr Awaid, Idlib
When: 29 February
What: HTS fighters using Turkish-supplied
Equipment supplied: ACV-15 and M113R
Source: Ebaa News (Official HTS channel)
For as long as the Syrian conflict in general – and Idlib in particular – is conceived
in black-and-white terms, no solution will be found. This is equally true of the
‘regime vs. rebels’ and the ‘legitimate state vs. jihadis’ narratives propagated by
Turkish and Western press on the one hand, and Russian press on the other.
War crimes committed by HTS and Turkish-backed groups against civilians living
in areas under their control do not excuse the Russian and SAA carpet-bombing
campaign: but nor should Turkey’s intervention be misunderstood as anything
less than a power-grab carried out in coordination with radical jihadist groups,
which will have potentially disastrous security consequences for the West as
Turkey recklessly provides these groups with heavy weapons and disseminates
MANPADs through areas under their control.
Given that – as is clear by this stage in the conflict – NATO and the Western community
are unwilling to proactively intervene in north-western Syria, Turkey’s
intervention cannot prevent the eventual return of Idlib to Damascus’ control.
On the basis of this reality, there are some concrete steps which can be taken
towards reconciliation, while also ensuring Western security interests are protected
and that lethal weapons systems are not handed to extremist groups
who pose a threat to civilians in the USA, Europe and Middle East alike.
SUPPORT FROM NORTH AND EAST SYRIA CONCLUSION
3.1 TAKING UP THE OFFER OF SUPPORT
FROM NORTH AND EAST SYRIA
Though Turkey claims its intervention into Idlib is to protect Syrian civilians, Turkey’s
invasions of Syria have killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands
of ordinary Syrians. At the same time, Turkey’s border remains closed to
refugees fleeing the lethal Russian-SAA assault, and Turkish border guards have
shot dead at least 422 civilians trying to flee into Turkey throughout the Syrian
Meanwhile, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) has
demonstrated its willingness to host up to a million IDPs from all over Syria55.
Most recently, the AANES opened its doors to IDPs fleeing Idlib, with at least 6000
IDPs from Idlib now being housed by the AANES. Loqman Ahmi, spokesperson
of the AANES, recently spoke with the UN to reaffirm North and East Syria’s willingness
to partner with the UN to house IDPs from Idlib, relieving the burden on
Europe and enabling these Syrian IDPs to remain in their own country56.
As noted above, a 2020 UN report found that Turkish-backed groups have committed
war crimes across areas under their control, constituting “myriad violations
of human rights and international humanitarian law by SNA fighters, using
language comparing their “enemies” to “infidels”, “atheists” & “pigs” when referring
to civilians, detainees & property…“, the displacement of the entire Yazidi
population in Sere Kaniye and large swathes of the Kurdish population, the expropriation
and looting of schools, businesses, bakeries, olive groves, vehicles,
agricultural tools, “the war crime of murder and repeatedly the war crime of pillaging…
hostage-taking, cruel treatment and torture… these violations may entail
criminal responsibility for Turkish commanders who knew or should have known
about these crimes.”
56 Rojava Information Center interview with Loqman Ehmi, 28 February 2019
The same report found no evidence of war crimes committed by the SDF, and on
the contrary praised the AANES for its ground-breaking efforts towards democratic
and gender equality in the regions under its control. Indeed, the AANES and
SDF are the only actors in Syria which consistently strive to meet international humanitarian
standards. Despite the US withdrawal which allowed Turkey to invade
North and East Syria, the AANES and SDF have consistently proven themselves
the West’s best partners in Syria, and loyal custodians of US and international
The fact that the AANES are welcoming IDPs from Idlib in their thousands once
again demonstrates that there was no need for Turkey to invade and occupy
North and East Syria to install Arab IDPs there. Nor is there any need for the UN
and EU to bow to Turkey’s use of refugees as a political weapon. Rather, NE Syria
has always been open to receive IDPs from all over Syria, and as such a strengthened
partnership between North and East Syria and the international community
is fundamental to resolving the humanitarian crisis in Idlib.
The USA and Europe should also act to house refugees fleeing Idlib on their own
account, rather than allowing Turkey to use refugees as a political bargaining chip.
As well as opening routes to safe third countries in the EU and elsewhere, they
should recognize that they have a loyal partner in North and East Syria willing and
able to house these IDPs on Syrian soil.
CONCLUSION SUPPORT FROM NORTH AND EAST SYRIA
A FEDERAL SOLUTION CONCLUSION
3.2 SUPPORTING THE POLITICAL
PROCESS TOWARDS A FEDERAL
SOLUTION IN SYRIA
As outlined above, a military solution is not feasible in Idlib, with international
intervention off the table and Turkey unable to seriously resist Russian aerial and
military dominance. As such, rather than allowing Turkey to prolong the conflict in
the hope of securing a larger slice of territory in North and East Syria, the United
States and the international community should offer meaningful support for a
political process and the vision of a federal Syria.
This will mean forcing Turkey to admit that it cannot – not does it seriously expect
to – prevent Russia and the SAA from taking Idlib, and recognizing that despite
recent flare-ups Turkey and Russia are taking great care not to engage one another
militarily in the field of conflict. The pressure Moscow exerts on Ankara is too
great, and Ankara likewise recognizes that NATO is not about to intervene on its
behalf in a war it has brought upon itself as part of its efforts to seize land, influence
and power in Syria.
In the words of analyst Aaron Stein, “The United States is Turkey’s ally, but has
little interest in the Turkish armed forces being bogged down in an unwinnable
war in Syria, taking casualties and being humiliated by Russian bombardment. A
ceasefire makes sound strategic sense. It also would be preferable to an outcome
in which more Syrians will die fighting for an unwinnable endeavor. Negotiations
with Russia will not be easy, nor straightforward.
“Idlib is a massive humanitarian catastrophe and the Assad regime is almost certain
to exact revenge on innocent civilians it accuses of being disloyal. The United
States ought to work to prevent this, but the path to doing so is not continuing
aid to an insurgency that will not win. The United States and Europe both should
consider continuing — if not expanding — its humanitarian assistance to ease
Turkey’s burden and support Syrian civilians.”57
The more the USA and Western community play a role in this process, the more
they can influence its outcome to ensure the best possible outcome for civilians
in north-western Syria and in terms of their security interests in the Middle East.
This means ensuring that all actors in Syria have a seat at the negotiating table,
including the AANES and SDF who are the USA’s most loyal partners in Syria but
are currently excluded from this process, as well as representatives of the wider
The vision of a federal, devolved Syria being put forward by the AANES represents
the best possible outcome for civilians in Idlib and across Syria, but for so long as
the debate is polarized between hopeless investment in a lost war in Idlib on the
one hand and Damascus’ hardball demands on the other, the best interests of
local civilians and the international community alike cannot be met.
3.3 BRINGING AN END TO TURKISH
SUPPORT FOR AL-QAEDA-LINKED
The more the burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Idlib is resolved, the less Turkey
will be able to use it as a figleaf to disguise its ambitions of territorial expansion.
Curbing Turkey’s proliferation of lethal weapons systems and heavy armor
throughout territory controlled by HTS and other al-Qaeda-linked militias is not
only a security prerogative, but a necessary step on the path toward an enduring
reconciliation and resolution in Syria outlined above.
To achieve this policy objective, it will be necessary for the international community
in general and the US and NATO partners in particular to exercise pressure
on Turkey, which is currently acting as a rogue actor and supporting listed terror
organizations, including HTS.
45 END TURKISH MILITIAS SUPPORT Even setting aside the fact that Turkey has aided and abetted the growth of ISIS in Syria and to this day shelters scores of high-ranking former ISIS members in the ranks of its militias, Turkey’s current actions in Idlib alone warrant its formal listing by the US Treasury Department as a State Sponsor of Terror. Taking decisive action against Turkey’s open support for al-Qaeda-linked factions in Idlib today could prevent a civilian airliner being shot down by these same factions tomorrow.
Report: 447 civilians killed by Turkish forces at Syrian border
The 447 refugees killed by Turkish security forces at the border with Syria include 83 children under the age of 18 and 56 women.
Sunday, 15 Mar 2020, 16:34
The Human Rights Organization of Afrin – Syria released a statement announcing that 447 refugees were killed by Turkish soldiers at the Turkish-Syrian border.
The statement includes the following:
“Turkish border guards shoot Syrian asylum seekers, including Kurdish citizens, and beat them when they try to enter Turkish territory, causing the death and injury of a number of them. Especially recently, after the Turkish state and its armed Syrian factions occupied Afrin area and as a result of the pressure that the indigenous people in Afrin are exposed to by the armed factions of the Turkish occupation, the cases of the flight of citizens, especially the Kurds, from them, and their asylum to Turkey across the common borders, especially in Afrin, increased.
According to the testimony of the relatives and local residents, which were documented by international and local human rights organizations, including the “Human Rights Watch” violence is used against asylum seekers and Syrian smugglers.
If Turkey has the right to secure its borders with Syria, it is obligated to respect the principle of non-refoulement that prohibits the expulsion of asylum seekers at the border when they are at risk of persecution and torture, or when their lives and freedom are threatened. Turkey is also obligated to respect international standards related to the use of excessive force, the right to life and physical liberty, including the absolute risk of subjecting anyone to inhuman or degrading treatment.
At a time when Turkey is blackmailing the European Union with refugees on its soil, in order to obtain financial and political benefits to legitimize their stay in Syria, and subject them to death and beatings, Turkey is using live ammunition and rifle butts to counter the flow of refugees, and among the victims that the border guards are killing are children and women.
Local and international human rights observatories (Human Rights Watch, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Center for Violations in Northern Syria), noted in their reports the extent of the violations that took place and are still occurring during the asylum of the citizens of Syria with various components and nationalities who are trying to enter the Turkish lands to escape the death that has been chasing them in the conflict that has been going on in Syria for 9 years. In addition, residents of the Syrian border villages and towns or farmers and landowners near the border are also targeted by Turkish gendarmerie with live bullets.
The number of Syrian citizens who were shot by Turkish border guards (gendarmerie) reached 447, including 83 children under the age of 18 and 56 women. In addition, 420 Syrian citizens were injured with gunfire or assault. Also, the Turkish state has built a separation wall along its 911 km long border with Syria to prevent the entry of refugees, resulting in continuous civilian deaths and injuries.
Although Turkey is one of the guarantor countries to de-escalation, and participates as one of the main parties to the conflict in Syria, and has the task of protecting refugees and displaced persons, it acts completely the opposite.
We, as the human rights organization in Afrin-Syria, appeal to all international human rights and civil organizations, led by the United Nations, to put pressure on the Turkish government to prevent the use of excessive force against Syrian refugees and displaced persons and others, as one of the countries of the Council of the European Union, and it must respect all international laws and regulations that stipulates respect for human rights principles and all relevant international agreemen
“Erdoğan experiences a political and military defeat in Idlib”
The HDP’s foreign policy spokesperson, Hişyar Özsoy says: “Turkey has tried to play off powers against each other, but this policy no longer works. Therefore it experiences a political, military and diplomatic defeat in Idlib”.
Friday, 6 Mar 2020, 15:30
Hişyar Özsoy is deputy co-chair and foreign policy spokesperson of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and is currently participating in various meetings in the US. ANF talked to him about current developments in the context of the Idlib dispute and the use of refugees as a means of blackmailing the EU by the Erdoğan regime.
What do you think about the fact that Erdoğan is trying to direct the anger about the killed soldiers towards the refugees?
This is nothing new. From the very beginning the refugee issue has been used to threaten Europe. This time it has partly worked, but partly it has not. Erdoğan could not achieve much with this threat. There were very strong reactions from Europe, but Angela Merkel started to support the Turkish wish for a “security zone” within Syria. Even if the refugee card does not build up as much pressure as before, it is still in Erdoğan’s hands. This is his strongest trump card against Europe.
You are currently taking part in various meetings in the US. How is the situation viewed there?
In the US this refugee question is taken very seriously. But for Washington, the relations between Russia and Turkey and the S-400 missiles are in the foreground. It looks like there will be very serious sanctions in April if Turkey does not do anything about the S-400s. But if Turkey abandons the S-400, Turkey can count on strong US support in Idlib. Some US politicians are trying to take a Turkey-friendly position. They try to support Turkey in Idlib, but that doesn’t mean that the US will send troops to Idlib or provide air support. There are fierce discussions about this in the US government.
The supporters of Erdoğan are isolated in this respect. They don’t get much support from the Pentagon, nor from Congress in this sense. But a humanitarian aid package has been announced. This is set to be used to pull Turkey to its side. This logic is directed against Russia. Especially because of the escalation of hostilities against Iran, the US wants Turkey on its side. But as I said, the crucial point is the S-400 missiles. If this deal with Russia is abandoned, the US will make a great effort to direct relations with Turkey. But if this does not happen and Turkey does not move into an anti-Russia position as the US wants, Ankara will probably soon come under very strong pressure from the US.
Do Turkey’s blackmail attempts not isolate the country?
Look, at the moment Turkey no longer has any real diplomatic relations with Europe, the US and, to be honest, with Russia. It is constantly trying to threaten and blackmail Europe. The reason for their cooperation with Erdoğan and its government is not because they like it. They are actually tired of this government. We can talk about anger here. Erdogan has built a relationship with all of Europe based on threats. This relationship is rapidly moving towards collapse.
The policy towards the Kurds in Syria has also isolated Turkey from the US. Even Turkey’s supporters have so far been unable to make their support openly known. All institutions are against Erdoğan. The refugee question is not important for the US, it mainly concerns Europe. Some countries in Europe do not want to turn Erdoğan against themselves. For example Greece, Bulgaria, Italy and the southern countries. Erdoğan can get Merkel to make concessions, even if only partially. And that is what he is trying to do.
Will this save Turkey from its internal crisis?
Whether it works or not, we’ll see. But Erdoğan has gone so far beyond threats and blackmail that he is diplomatically at his wits’ end. This is a big problem for him, because he is currently facing Russia militarily, but he doesn’t have Europe on his side. That is a big obstacle. Turkey has tried to play the powers against each other, but this policy no longer works. That is why it is experiencing a political, military and diplomatic defeat in Idlib.
In a recent interview, Bashar al-Assad stated that a Kurdish question did not exist in Syria and accused the autonomous administration of separatism. The latter called on Damascus to develop an understanding for democracy.
Saturday, 7 Mar 2020, 20:36
The unresolved Kurdish question in the Middle East has been one of the most serious conflicts in the region for more than a century, with dramatic political and humanitarian consequences – for all four central states, to which the historical settlement territory of the Kurds was divided quite arbitrarily: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria. The “divide and rule” policy has not only created a Middle East that resembles an open powder keg and is constantly fed with dynamite. In the “quadripartite” Kurdistan, starting with the denial of a Kurdish existence at all, an unresolved identity conflict has established itself. Also from this aspect, the solution of the Kurdish question and Kurdish self-determination is seen as the key element of the democratization of the Middle East.
In Syria, the Kurds form the largest minority in the country. Their oppression, similar to that in Turkey, has a history of decades. The Syrian regime also relied on tyranny and denial of Kurdish existence. The recognition of Kurdish identity was considered a threat to national unity. Even before the country was marked by political instability in the 1960s – one coup followed the next – the Kurds experienced brutal oppression. In 1958, the publication of Kurdish books and the teaching of the Kurdish language in schools was banned. The authorities Arabized the names of Kurdish villages and towns. In 1962, 120,000 Kurds were deprived of Syrian citizenship after a census in Hesekê. In 1963, shortly after the Baath Party took power, plans to “Arabize” northern Syria began to take shape with the so-called “12-point plan” by Talab Hilal, the then police director of Hesekê. His racist and anti-Semitic ideas about how to deal with the Kurds were clear: Hilal called the Kurds a “malignant tumour”. To “cut it out” was the only right way to “cure” Syria.
Ten years later, the so-called “Arabization” was implemented in a 350-kilometer long and about fifteen-kilometer wide “Arab belt” along the border with Turkey in order to change the ethnic composition of the population in favor of the Arab population. In the course of the Arabization project, dozens of new villages were built and four thousand Arab families from Raqqa and Aleppo were settled as early as the beginning of the 1970s. Kurds were deliberately expelled or deported from their ancestral homeland, their cultivable land confiscated and given to the newly settled Arabs. The regime presented this de facto expropriation as “privatization”, deprived the expropriated Kurds of their citizenship and Arabized all Kurdish place names. Nevertheless, the Kurds remained steadfast and refused to comply with the regime’s demand to leave the region.
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, who has continued the oppressive policy of his father Hafiz al-Assad since 2000, recently stated in an interview on Russian television that there is no “Kurdish question” in Syria. Claims to the contrary were “illusory and a lie”, he said and argued that, moreover, all Kurds living in northern Syria have immigrated from Turkey in the last century.
The fact that the Assad regime, despite the crisis in Syria, which has now been going on for nine years and is getting worse and worse, has apparently not changed its attitude towards the Kurds and is sticking to its assimilation policy has provoked sharp criticism in the self-governing areas of northern and eastern Syria. In a written statement, the autonomous administration recalls that Syria, once torn by internal conflicts, has become a theatre of war for numerous armed groups and international state actors within a scant decade.
“The Syrian regime, as the architect of this as yet unresolved crisis, is shirking its responsibility to find solutions instead. That Bashar al-Assad under these circumstances is sticking to the mentality that created this crisis, is unacceptable”.
The autonomous administration emphasizes that the regime’s approach and language against the Kurds do only serve the Turkish state, which occupies large areas of Syrian territory; “The government in Damascus claims that Syria will defend its territory and will not accept any occupation of ‘Syrian soil’. However, Assad’s most recent statements testify to the regime’s lack of interest in dialogue and hamper the search for a solution to the crisis. The Kurdish question is one of the most fundamental problems and the key to the democratisation of the country. A peaceful solution will pave the way to defusing Syria’s crisis.”
Alluding to the accusations of separatism raised by Assad against the Kurdish part of the population and the peoples of northern and eastern Syria, the autonomous administration calls on the regime to take a look at the recent past and at Afrin’s resistance against the Turkish state and its “terrorist jihadist factions” – a struggle that was aimed at defending the integrity of Syria.
“All those who are now accusing us of separatism in Syria should remember emphatically those who defended Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain) and Girê Spî (Tal Abyad) with their lives. It should not be forgotten that the regime remained silent on the invasion and merely observed incidents from a distance. We, the peoples of Northern and Eastern Syria, are committed to defending the very Syrian soil that the regime claims to protect. Our merit is obvious, we do not have to present the evidences of our struggle but we have the right to ask the Syrian regime if it has achieved any success.”
In its statement, the autonomous administration emphasizes that the regime must finally adopt a solution-oriented attitude in order to lead Syria out of the crisis, saying that, in the contrary case, the conflicts would intensify further.
“The current mentality, which has failed to come up with a solution to the Syrian crisis for years, is what has made the occupation of Northern Syrian cities by Turkey possible.”
For a Syria-wide perspective to solve all problems, a renewed political agenda is needed that allows for change and internalizes democracy, the autonomous administration proposes.
“To build a democratic Syria, the paths must be opened. At the same time it should be accepted that the Kurdish question is one of the main factors in Syria’s crisis. The autonomous administration of northern and eastern Syria is not a system that seeks to divide Syria. The project of a democratic nation, which is implemented in the self-governing areas, is based on the fraternity of the peoples. It has proved to be successful. Statements aimed at defaming this alternative system, which has already proved its worth, are of benefit only to those who want Syria to be divided,” the statement said.
Autonomous administration welcomes people from Idlib
North and East Syria is open to displaced people from Idlib. The autonomous administration takes care of the people who fled the war. Since the region itself is undersupplied due to the Turkish invasion, an appeal is made to the UN.
Sunday, 1 Mar 2020, 16:39
Over 1,500 families fled the war in Idlib to the autonomous region of North and East Syria. The autonomous administration has accommodated the displaced civilians from Idlib in camps despite their own limited possibilities and takes care of the basic supply of food and health care.
Today the Autonomous Administration has again declared that people from Idlib who had to leave their homes due to the fighting are welcome.
The statement says:
“Due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Idlib, the civilian population is in a very bad situation. Cooperation is needed to alleviate the suffering of civilians in the face of the wave of migration that is taking place. Action must be taken.
The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have already declared that they will fulfil their humanitarian duty towards the people of Idlib in accordance with their responsibilities. On this basis, we are once again informing the people of Idlib that we will provide them with care within the limits of our possibilities. We declare that despite the high number of migrants in our region we will fulfill our duty.
Call to international institutions
As the autonomous administration, we face serious obstacles due to the hundreds of thousands of displaced persons from the areas occupied by the Turkish state, the closure of the Til Kocher [al-Yaarubiyah on the Iraqi-Syrian border] border crossing and the small quantities of UN aid shipments via Damascus.
We call on the UN and other international institutions to cooperate with the autonomous administration in view of the flight from Idlib. They should propose solutions on how to overcome the current difficult situation.
This should be accompanied by a reconsideration of the decision to close the Til Kocher border crossing for humanitarian aid deliveries. Humanitarian aid must arrive in north-east Syria in order to guarantee basic supplies for those seeking protection”.
Another step towards Turkification … Turkish language courses in Gire Spi
The Turkish occupation continues to follow the policy of Turkification in the areas it occupied from Syria with the aim of changing the demography of the region, and this was evident by the courses that were announced yesterday in the occupied city of Girê Spi.
NEWS02 Mar 2020, Mon – 14:332020-03-02T14:33:00 Ain Issa
Turkey and its mercenaries occupied each of the cities of Serekaniye and Gire Spi after its brutal attack on the regions of northern and eastern Syria in October 9 last year.
Since its occupation of the two cities, it began with the assistance of its mercenaries, whom it uses to implement its agendas of pillaging and pillaging the region’s goods, and displacing the indigenous people with flimsy pretexts that it creates for them, in order to displace them and resettle the mercenary families instead of them.
After its indiscriminate bombing of populated cities and villages, it managed to displace more than 300 thousand people of the two cities, and it is currently restricting the rest of the people with the aim of displacing them.
After seeing that the people adhered to their cities and villages, it started with other plans, including the Turks, with the aim of spreading the Turkish language among the people, as it announced yesterday the opening of free Turkish educational courses in Gire Spi.
According to local sources, Turkey announced that it would receive all those who would like to learn the Turkish language, and identified the educational complex in the neighborhood of housing as a place for registration and education.
About a month ago, Turkey opened a similar course in the occupied canton of Afrin and forced more than 30 young people from Afrin to join that course.
The same source added that the people in the occupied area reject the behavior of the Turkish occupation and its mercenaries, and the high cost of living there, in addition to the lack of security, and the large number of arrests and theft by mercenaries there.
Syrian Kurds push UN for action on Idlib humanitarian crisis
Children walk along a mudpath at a camp for displaced Syrians in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib, Dec. 12, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – On Saturday, officials from the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (AANES) discussed the dire situation for large numbers of displaced civilians fleeing from the embattled city of Idlib with the director of the United Nations Office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
The ongoing fighting in Idlib has already displaced over 800,000 civilians. So far, 1,000 of them have fled the city to areas controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Manbij, Raqqa, and Tabqa following the call of the group’s leader, according to a Feb. 21 statement released by the US-based aid group Burma Free Rangers.
The SDF says it expects at least another 5,000 to flee to the northeast. “In light of the recent deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Idlib, we have talked to UN Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Kevin Kennedy today to express our readiness to scale up these efforts, with the assistance of the UN and the international community,” said AANES spokesperson Luqman Ahmi.
“We talked about how the Self Administration of North and East Syria and the UN can support one another to help IDPs fleeing war in Idlib,” Ahmi told the Rojava Information Centre.
“IDPs from Idlib have already arrived to North and East Syria. We have welcomed them and prepared camps for them. We are ready to continue this work in an organized, efficient way, in collaboration with the UN,” he added.
The local administration also called on the international community and the UN in a public statement to coordinate with the local administration to “offer proposals and resolutions to face this challenge in these severe circumstances and reconsider its decision to close the Yaroubiyeh border crossing.”
The UN’s Yaroubiyeh operation that previously supplied 40 percent of the medical provisions used in areas run by the Self-Administration was closed in January due to a veto of China and Russia in a UN Security Council vote. As a result, the humanitarian situation has worsened in northeastern Syria.
Thomas McClure, a Syria-based researcher at the Rojava Information Center, told Kurdistan 24 on Saturday, “Turkey claims its intervention into Idlib is to protect Syrian civilians, but in reality, Turkey’s invasions of Syria have killed hundreds and displaced hundreds of thousands of ordinary Syrians.”
“At the same time, Turkey’s border remains closed to refugees fleeing the lethal Russian-SAA [Syrian Arab Army] assault, and Turkish border guards have shot dead hundreds of civilians trying to flee into Turkey throughout the Syrian conflict.”
“The AANES, meanwhile, has demonstrated its willingness to host up to a million IDPs from all over Syria, most recently opening its doors to IDPs fleeing Idlib. Indeed, the AANES and SDF are the only actors in Syria which consistently strive to meet international humanitarian standards.”
McClure underlined the fact that the Autonomous Administration welcomes people fleeing from Idlib demonstrates that there is no need for “UN and EU to bow to Turkey’s use of refugees as a political weapon.”
Thousands of immigrants recently gathered at the closed Greek border after Ankara said it will not prevent their passage to Europe following the death of several Turkish soldiers in Idlib.
“Rather, Northeastern Syria has always been open to receive IDPs from all over Syria, and as such a strengthened partnership between Northeastern Syria and the international community is fundamental to resolving the humanitarian crisis in Idlib.”
Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan asked NATO to exercise its mutual defence agreement stipulated by Article 5 of its charter when 33 Turkish troops were killed by Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib.
Turkey’s request is cynical and self-serving. Erdoğan betrayed the Alliance, siding with Russia in a war he helped foment.
After the 2011 popular uprising in Dara’a, which marked the beginning of Syria’s civil war, Erdoğan embraced the Muslim Brotherhood and supported Islamist rebels fighting the regime of Bashar Assad. Erdoğan envisioned himself the Caliph of Mesopotamia, leading a worldwide community of Sunni brothers.
Turkey was the major conduit for weapons and money, thinking the victory of jihadists was inevitable. However, Assad’s forces were tenacious.
Former U.S. President Barack Obama promised a regime change and drew a red line on the use of chemical weapons (CW). His warnings were hollow. More than 1,300 people, including hundreds of children, were killed in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta, Muadhamiya, Ein Tarma, and Zamalka on 21 August 2013. Obama had no appetite for military intervention. He claimed the red line was a warning, rather an actual threat to intervene.
Erdoğan decided to expand support for the rebels and overthrow Assad he had, a year ago, hugged as ‘dear brother.’. Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency established the jihadi highway from Şanlıurfa in Turkey to Raqqa, the Islamic State (ISIS) capital in Syria. It assisted 40,000 foreign jihadists from more than 100 countries who transited through Turkey to the front lines in Syria.
The presence of Chechens and other Islamists from the Southern Caucasus was deeply unsettling to Russia. Their advances presented a risk to Russian bases in Latakia and Tartous, threatening Russia’s warm-water port on the Mediterranean. They also threatened Iran’s corridor through Iraq and Syria that was supplying Lebanon’s Hezbollah with sophisticated missiles to attack Israel.
General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) Quds Force, met Putin in Moscow. With Turkish-backed rebels advancing on Damascus, Soleimani unfurled a map of rebel positions. Despite the consternation of his Russian hosts, he assured them, “All is not lost.”
Russian and Iranian officials agreed on a plan to rescue Assad. The IRGC, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias would engage Sunni rebels on the battlefield. Russia would provide air support.
Putin announced Russia’s military intervention at the U.N. General Assembly on September 28, 2015. Turkey and Russia were on opposite sides. Turkey supported regime change and gave weapons to the rebels, while Russia backed the regime.
Russian-Turkish relations collapsed when a Turkish F-16 shot down a Russian Sukhoi-24 along the Syrian border.
Turkey was also alienated from the United States. The United States and Turkey had a major falling out after Erdoğan alleged Washington’s complicity in the so-called coup of July 2015. Ever pragmatic, Erdoğan reached out to Putin and forged an alliance in Syria.
Turkey joined Russia in parallel diplomacy called the Astana process in January 2017. The Astana process marginalised the U.N. and excluded the United States.
Putin agreed to look the other way, while Turkish-backed jihadis and Turkish armed forces targeted the Syrian Kurds, who Erdoğan called the “real terrorists.”
Turkey invaded Afrin in January 2018. The offensive, cynically called “Operation Olive Branch”, killed hundreds of Kurds and displaced nearly a quarter million. Russia controlled the air space west of the Euphrates and was complicit.
Turkey invaded Kurdish lands east of the Euphrates in October 2019. Hundreds were killed and many displaced, including Kurds,
Armenians and Syriac Christians. Turkey’s jihadist proxies committed atrocities, mutilating the bodies of female fighters.
Erdoğan sought to dissuade Putin from attacking Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in Syria’s northwest. Despite Erdoğan’s appeal, Syrian ground forces backed by Russian air power intensified attacks, pushing 900,000 people from their homes. Turkey sealed its border leaving displaced Syrians with no place to go.
Turkey presents itself as the victim of actions by Russia and Syria. In fact, it is the aggressor.
The recent armed conflict between Turkey and Russia is a direct result of Erdoğan’s ill-conceived bravado. It was a strategic miscalculation to think that Russia and Syria would stand down in Idlib.
Now Erdoğan wants NATO involved. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Charter stipulates that an attack on one member of the Alliance is an attack on all members.
However, Erdoğan’s appeal has fallen on deaf ears. In addition to his duplicity, Erdoğan’s anti-American, anti-European and anti-NATO positions have deeply riled the West.
For sure, any loss of life is regrettable. It is, however, hard to side with the Turks when Erdoğan’s actions led to Turkey’s woes.
Turkey intensified the civil war by supplying jihadis. When the war persisted and millions of refugees went to Turkey, Erdoğan extorted money from the European Union to manage the refugee crisis, which he helped create. Turkey scorned the U.N., joining the Astana process, and it repudiated the U.S., spending $3 billion to buy Russian weapons.
The US assiduously avoided a military role in Syria. Years ago, it missed an opportunity to intervene when intervention could have saved Syria.
Despite the heart-wrenching suffering of people in Idlib, the Trump administration is unlikely to intervene militarily. Turkey will pay a steep price for Erdoğan’s hubris and bad judgment.
Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces have reportedly stopped a pumping station in Ras al-Ain from providing water hundreds of thousands of people including internally displaced Syrians and Islamic State captives and their families.
A vehicle belonging to Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters is parked next to a Turkish military bulldozer in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain, as seen from the Turkish border town of Ceylanpinar, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, Oct. 30, 2019.
Turkey’s pressure campaign on Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria took a fresh sinister turn this week when Turkish-backed Syrian rebel forces reportedly halted service at the Alok pumping station in the Turkish-occupied town of Ras al-Ain. The facility supplies water to approximately 460,000 people, including hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Syrians as well as Islamic State captives and their families.
“The Turkish-backed sources entered the water station [Feb. 24] and forced it to stop its work and threw out the technicians as well,” wrote Sozda Ahmed of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in Northeast Syria. She told Al-Monitor via the Rojava Information Center in emailed comments, “As a result the city of al Hasakah, Tell Tamar and the rest of the Hasakah region — including Hol and Shedadi — have been left without water. Arisha camp, Hol camp [housing Islamic State fighters’ families] and Washokani camp [housing internally displaced Syrians from Ras al-Ain] have all been affected.”
Ankara has long been accused of seeking to suffocate the Syrian Kurdish-run region economically as well as militarily and politically, all part of a campaign to torpedo Kurdish aspirations of self-rule. Turkey’s borders with the Kurdish-administered northeast from Manbij all the way to the Iraqi border further east remain sealed, including to humanitarian organizations.
“Water is a weapon that Turkey has used against Syria in the past and it will likely continue to do so,” Fabrice Balanche, Syria expert and associate professor at France’s Lyon II University, told Al-Monitor.
With all eyes trained on the rebel-held province of Idlib, where Russian-backed Syrian government forces and the Turkish army have been clashing since the start of this month, the Alok affair has largely slipped under the radar. A Russian delegation was expected to arrive in Ankara tomorrow to break a deadlock over Turkish demands for a cease-fire as close to a million displaced civilians remain massed along the Turkish border, reported the state-run Anadolu news agency.
At least 16 Turkish military personnel have died so far, some of them victims of Russian airstrikes.
Balanche reckons that despite all the hawkish rhetoric, the two sides will eventually agree. A putative deal might include Russia letting Turkish forces take the Kurdish-controlled town of Kobani and move people displaced from Idlib there, Arabizing Kobani as was done in Afrin, the Kurdish-majority enclave Turkey invaded in early 2018. “All depends on whether the Kurds cut a deal with regime and tell the Americans to go or not,” Balanche noted.
Meanwhile, coming amid a global scare over the coronavirus epidemic, a sustained water cut could spell disaster for Hasakah as local authorities struggle to cope with overcrowded displacement camps crammed with infants and children.
Ahmed said that the reasons for the stoppage were not clear to the local authorities. “We only know the station has been prevented from working. We don’t know why they did this or what they want from us.” Nor was it clear whether Turkey gave the orders.
The technicians who were allegedly evicted from the Alok facility are believed to be members of a Syrian government team that routinely visits the station for maintenance purposes and has continued to do so following Turkey’s October “Operation Peace Spring” invasion of Ras al-Ain. Alok was first put out of service by shelling during the Turkish push, the United Nations reported on Oct. 18.
Kurdish authorities blamed Turkish artillery fire. Service was partially restored with the facility operating at about 20% of capacity.
Well-informed sources familiar with humanitarian relief efforts in northeast Syria said they had heard matching accounts of the situation at Alok from local authorities.
“Alok water station remains a critically important source of clean water for nearly half a million people in northeast Syria. As was done last year, when the station was damaged in hostilities, the UN and humanitarian partners are advocating to parties to ensure the station runs uninterrupted,” Danielle Moylan, spokesperson for the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Al-Monitor. “In addition, the UN and humanitarian partners are planning emergency water supplies to affected families in the area.”
Found in:internally displaced persons, turkish intervention in syria, ras al-ain, water crisis, water supply
Amberin Zaman is a senior correspondent reporting from the Middle East, North Africa and Europe exclusively for Al-Monitor. Zaman has been a columnist for Al-Monitor for the past five years, examining the politics of Turkey, Iraq and Syria and writing the daily Briefly Turkey newsletter. Prior to Al-Monitor, Zaman covered Turkey, the Kurds and conflicts in the region for The Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, The Los Angeles Times and the Voice of America. She served as The Economist’s Turkey correspondent between 1999 and 2016, and has worked as a columnist for several Turkish language outlets. On Twitter: @amberinzama
Turkish armed forces have controlled a strip of land in northeast Syria between the towns of Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn (Serekaniye in Kurdish) since October 9, 2019. Turkey, which has had a presence in northwest Syria since it invaded the Afrin region in January 2018, has split the territorial integrity of this Kurdish region, Rojava (“west” in Kurdish) or the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, politically autonomous since 2013.
Turkey’s actions are a direct threat to the political and military alliance established by the PYD (Democratic Union Party)—the Syrian branch of the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party)—and northeast Syria’s other main demographic groups, the Arabs and Syriac Christians. This alliance, the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces), and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Council (SDC), also have to reckon with the forces of Bashar al-Assad who still hopes to regain control of the whole region, from which he withdrew in 2012. Seven years after its creation, what remains of the PYD’s pluralist, democratic project?
We set out from the Newroz refugee camp in Derik, near the Turkish and Iraqi borders. A woman living there said she had fled six times since 2018: “My family and I are from Afrin. When the Turks came, we went first to Shabab, then toward Aleppo. From there we reached Kobane. Then my son found work in Ras al-Ayn. After the Turks attacked, we had to flee barefoot to Tell Tamr and now we’re here in this camp.” A man said he had left his small farm in Tell Abyad last autumn: “We were living happily. The political system worked well. Then the Turkish president sent planes to bomb us and all the Kurds left.”
Ethnic makeup to be changed
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin signed a 10-point agreement in Sochi on October 22, 2019, ratifying Turkey’s presence in northeast Syria and forcing the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the PYD’s armed forces, to withdraw from Turkish-held territory. Since then, Turkey has been accused of driving out the Kurdish population and replacing them with 2 million Sunni Arabs who had fled from elsewhere in Syria to Turkey. “Erdoğan wants to change the ethnic makeup of the territory his army controls,” according to Abdel Karim Omar, foreign minister in the Federation’s autonomous government. “Before Turkey invaded in 2018, 85 percent of Afrin’s population was Kurdish. Now it’s 20 percent.”
We can’t be sure if these profound changes mean the end of Rojava as a political entity. When the Turkish army and its Syrian militias—known as çete (gangsters)—tried to expand their territory, they met fierce resistance.
We set off from Qamishli for Kobane, which was where Kurdish forces first seriously defeated ISIS in January 2015. At a main checkpoint held by the federation’s security forces, we were redirected to avoid the M4 east-west highway, as it was too dangerous: Turkish military drones overfly it and pro-Turkish militias, based just 400 yards from the road, make regular incursions. On October 12, 2019, Hevrin Khalaf, an influential Kurdish politician, was intercepted on the M4 at Tirwazi near Tell Abyad and brutally killed by Turkish-backed jihadist militias.
The Trump administration’s announcement on October 6 of a US military withdrawal from the region opened the way for a Turkish invasion and left the SDF no option but to call for military support from Damascus. After the Sochi agreement, Syrian troops were deployed between Kobane and the Iraqi border, except for the Turkish-occupied enclave. The Syrian army has small military posts every six miles; according to people we spoke to, its role is mainly to discourage further Turkish expansion.
The Turks have put a price on the head of SDF military commander Mazloum “Kobane” Abdi, who said of the Syrian army, “It’s largely a politically symbolic presence.” He added that there is no other Syrian military presence in SDF-controlled zones. Throughout our journey we saw only the Asayish, the Arab-Kurdish SDF police, watching the roads. We asked Abdi about future relations between Rojava and Damascus, and he said the priority was a political agreement: “We want political autonomy to be written into the Syrian constitution and the SDF to be part of the defense of the whole of Syria. These are demands we won’t compromise on. Under such an agreement, defending the north of the country would be the SDF’s responsibility.”
‘We will not let Kurds lose their rights’
Would the Syrian government accept a change that would end decades of centralism and the quest for a single Arab national identity? Damascus has given no sign of this. We spoke to Polat Can, an SDF commander who led the operation to liberate the Deir al-Zor region, long under ISIS control. “Rojava will not revert to its pre-2010 state. We will not let the Kurds lose their rights, and we will not destroy the relations we’ve established with the Arabs and the Syriac Christians.” He suggested everything else was negotiable, including the autonomous entity’s name and how its borders would be controlled.
The Kurds feel bitterness and anger over how the enclave between Tell Abyad and Ras al-Ayn was abandoned to the Turks. This feeling is especially acute because of the lack of air protection. Abdi said, “The Russians have let Turkish planes bombard our civilians, children, and defense forces. They haven’t kept their promises. Nor has the US.” Polat Can’s verdict was starker: “The Turks are killing Kurds with European weapons. Their drones are Italian and their Leopard tanks are German. If we had an air exclusion zone that could stop our troops being bombed from the air, we would kick the Turks out of Rojava in a week.”
We reached Kobane after a six-hour detour via Raqqa on badly damaged roads. The many oil tankers on the road made the air almost unbreathable. Some of the cheap, low-quality crude oil extracted in northeast Syria is used by the local population and the rest is sold by Damascus through intermediaries. The autonomous government runs public services and funds infrastructure projects through oil revenue and taxes on goods crossing the Iraqi border in both directions. But oil extraction is not at full capacity. Ziad Rustem, a member of the autonomous government’s energy commission, told us, “Only 25 percent of oil wells in northeast Syria are operating. The rest have stopped because of the war and the embargo on Syrian oil.”
Raqqa, the ISIS capital from 2014 to 2017, is now SDF-controlled. The city was badly damaged by fierce fighting, but reconstruction has begun. In the center, where ISIS used to display human heads on stakes, there are huge letters spelling “I love Raqqa.” ISIS still has a support base in this Arab-majority region and cells regularly carry out operations, including suicide attacks. But the city seemed relatively calm. When Erdoğan invaded the north, he counted on an Arab uprising against the Kurds. It hasn’t happened.
Brainwashed against the Kurds
Polat Can explained, “The Arab clans in Deir al-Zor told us, ‘Don’t bring the regime back here. You’re Kurds and we don’t like you, but at least you’re Sunnis—we can work with you.’ The Syrian regime used to brainwash the Arab population against the Kurds by telling them we’re Zionists, atheists, capitalists. But in the regions that are almost 100 percent Arab, there have been no uprisings against the SDF.”
The recent Turkish invasion brought together Kurdish groups that used to oppose PYD dominance. Nari Mattini, a longtime opponent of the SDC, has now joined them. Mohsen Tahir, a member of the Kurdish National Council (ENKS), created at the instigation of the PDK (Democratic Party of Kurdistan), which is on good terms with Turkey and is intended to counterbalance PYD-PKK influence in the region, now admits that the priority is Kurdish unity to stop ethnic cleansing. That unity will depend on how relations between the PYD and the PDK develop; currently the PYD will not allow any other military force on the ground in Rojava.
In Ain Issa, midway between Raqqa and Kobane, a Russian patrol suddenly emerged from a military base: Russia has replaced the United States here. We had already encountered a Russian patrol near the Tell Tamr front line further east, around Hasakah, and a US patrol near the eastern oil fields. It’s unclear who is calling the shots.
Do the Kurds trust the Russians more than they trust the United States? Abdi told us that, for now, “Moscow is working on a solution between the Kurds and the Syrian regime.” But he and other prominent Kurds know Russia and Turkey made a bargain over Rojava that benefited the Syrian government. “Initially, Russia ‘gave’ Afrin to Turkey in exchange for Homs, Ghouta, and a small part of Idlib for the Syrian regime. Then it ‘ceded’ Ras al-Ayn and Tell Abyad to Turkey in exchange for another bit of Idlib.” The Kurds could be the biggest losers in these trades.
It was cold and wet in Kobane, and reconstruction work in the town was on hold because of fears of another invasion. In 2014 the invader was ISIS. Kobane is now threatened by the Turkish army and its allied militias, some including former jihadist fighters. The inhabitants, convinced that war was imminent, were digging tunnels to withstand attack. If it happens, the fate of Kobane might determine Rojava’s fate too.
Syria: Who’s in control of Idlib?
By Zulfiqar AliBBC Reality Check 18 February 2020
The northern Syrian province of Idlib is the last remaining stronghold controlled by forces opposed to President Bashar al-Assad.
Syrian government forces have been pushing into rebel-held territory with the help of Iranian-backed militias and Russian airstrikes.
Dozens of towns and villages have been captured by Syrian forces including a key strategic highway, the main economic artery through Syria from north to south, linking Damascus, Homs and Aleppo.
In 2016, al-Nusra Front declared that it had severed formal ties with the al-Qaeda network and renamed itself Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.
The following year, it merged with several small jihadist groups fighting in Syria and formed HTS.
Although HTS insists it is independent and not linked to an external entity, the UN, US and Turkey consider it a group associated with al-Qaeda and list it as a terrorist organisation.
Although analysts are cautious about making numerical estimates, Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, an independent analyst, says he believes HTS is the biggest group, which still controls large parts of Idlib province, carries out most of the fighting against government forces and has between 15,000 to 20,000 fighters.
“HTS has also set up and backed a civilian administration in the area – the Salvation Government- that has thousands of employees,” Al-Tamimi says.
In a report published in January, the UN gave a slightly lower estimate of between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in Idlib associated with HTS, including many foreigners.
This report says that there are an additional 3,500 to 5,000 fighters affiliated with the Hurras al-Din group.
Syrian government supporters say the numbers are significantly higher.
Pro-government politician, Fares Shehabi, told us that he believes there are there are as many as 100,000 HTS fighters in Idlib.
He says HTS is affiliated to al-Qaeda despite its denials. “They carry al-Qaeda flags, they practise al-Qaeda methods,” he said
The other significant force is the National Liberation Front (NLF), which was formed in 2018 by rebel factions wanting to counter HTS.
It is a Turkish-backed alliance that includes hardline Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Sham, as well as several groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) – a force considered more “moderate” by Western powers.
In October NLF merged with other rebel groups in northern Syria and rebranded itself to become part of the Syrian National Army (SNA) under the command of the Syrian Interim Government’s (SIG) Ministry of Defence.
But Aron Lund, a fellow with the US-based research group The Century Foundation, says the NLF “is still the same group of Idlib-based factions as before the SNA rebranding”, noting that the alliance is held together by Turkish leadership, as well as Turkish money, weapons and supplies.
“They’re clearly a weaker force than HTS,” according to Lund. “They lack the cohesion, logistics, and organization of that group, and they are not as well armed. However, they add some manpower and are closer to Turkey whose role is going to be key to what happens next in Idlib,” he says.
According to a report by the US Department of Defense released in February, the “Turkish-supported opposition likely consists of between 22,000 and 50,000 fighters from more than 30 different groups.”
There are other groups as well.
One is Hurras al-Din (Guardians of Religion), a splinter group from HTS that is widely believed to be al-Qaeda’s new affiliate in Syria.
Hurras al-Din is largely made up of HTS defectors and the two groups have so far found it difficult to set aside their differences and work together beyond occasional, limited collaboration.
There are also many foreign jihadists in Idlib, many of whom are fighting for groups associated with al-Qaeda.
The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) is a group of Uighur fighters, who mostly fight alongside HTS.
The Uighurs – a Muslim ethnic minority primarily based in China’s Xinjiang province – established a presence in northern Syria in the early years of the civil war.
There are also the predominantly-Uzbek Tawhid and Jihad Brigade, which is aligned with HTS, and the Imam al-Bukhari Brigade.
“We believe there are about 30-40,000 foreign fighters mainly Uighur, Tajik, Uzbek, Turks, and others from 103 nationalities – many with their migrated families,” says Syrian MP Fares Shehabi.
But Raffaello Pantucci, of the UK-based security think tank the Royal United Services Institute, believes this number is too high.
“They and their families may not number more than several thousand,” he says.
There are also believed to be other foreign jihadists in Idlib, including Chechens and Uzbeks, although the numbers are likely to be smaller.
Civilians trapped in Idlib
A major concern now is for the civilians living in Idlib.
The UN estimates it is home to 3 million people, including 1 million children.
More than 40% of these come from other areas previously held by opposition forces.
The UN says the air and ground attacks in Idlib have been causing both “massive waves” of displacement and “major loss of civilian life”.
At least 1,710 civilians have been killed, including 337 women and 503 children since the escalation of the conflict in northwest Syria in April 2019
YPJ fighter Nûcan Cuma martyred in Serêkaniyê
YPJ announced the martyrdom of Nûcan Cuma in the resistance against the Turkish invasion of Serêkaniyê.
Thursday, 13 Feb 2020, 20:20
The General Command of the Women’s Defense Units (YPJ, Yekîneyên Parastina Gel) has announced that YPJ fighter Şêrin Silêman Murad (Nom de Guerre: Nûcan Cûma) fell a martyr in the resistance against the Turkish invasion of Serêkaniyê (Ras al-Ain).
Serêkaniyê was one of the first cities to be attacked during the Turkish invasion of northern Syria, which began on 9 October 2019. For ten days, resistance was put up against NATO’s second largest army until the agreement of a ceasefire – which was actually never respected by the Turkish army and its jihadist auxiliary forces – implicated the withdrawal of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from Serêkaniyê.
When exactly and under what circumstances Murad died, however, is unclear. For a long time it was not known whether the Kurdish woman was captured or died in battle, which delayed the announcement of her death.
Şêrin Silêman Murad was born in Girkê Legê (Arabic: al-Muabbada), a small town in northeastern Syria in which Kurds make up the majority of the population, as the daughter of a patriotic working class family. In 2011, Murad, who had been taking part in the Rojava revolution since its inception, joined the local women’s struggle groups. Since the YPJ was founded on 3 April 2013, she has been an active member.
YPJ described Murad as a selfless woman who followed her convictions with courage and dedication; “She fought in the front ranks of the resistance without batting an eyelid, her attitude testifying to the passion for revolution in the hearts of the women of R