Tag: turkey

Duplicitious Alliances

The chief of US Central Command Gen. Joseph Votel visited Kobani and Raqqa front lines in Syria yesterday to reassure Kurdish and Arab allies in Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that the US is still with them. While he urged the SDF to continue the offensive against ISIS-held city, SDF commanders warned him in no uncertain terms that should the Turkey-backed jihadis attack Manbij, the Raqqa offensive will be over and their forces will withdraw to defend their territory in the north.

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 Taking pressure off Raqqa is precisely the outcome both Turkey and ISIS sought when they agreed to a deal to surrender al-Bab to FSA jihadis in secret talks with Turkish chief of staff in the United Arab Emirates last week. ISIS fighters will retreat and consolidate their forces around Raqqa while Turkey, having caused the failure of the Raqqa offensive by attacking Manbij, can re-portray itself as the only force capable of taking on ISIS. Thus the western efforts to destroy ISIS can be hampered, delayed or otherwise abandoned.

Is the US too blind to see this ploy? On the contrary, Turkey has long signaled that it considers the SDF as greater threat to its interests than ISIS. Turkey only started its campaign to drive ISIS from border areas with Syria when they realised that, after Manbij, the US-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance were going to liberate al-Bab. The US is too wrapped up in its formal NATO alliance with Turkey to acknowledge Turkish president Erdogan’s destabilising duplicity for what it is.

Following General Votel’s visit CENTCOM twitter account published several photographs showing SDF fighters fresh out of their training and getting their uniforms and AKs. An image of a US-made anti-IED mine vehicle being delivered to the SDF also circulated. These are not necessarily positive developments for Kurds. In the photo captions, the Arab part of the SDF, Syrian Arab Coalition, was specifically mentioned several times, while Kurds and their Peoples’ Protection Force (YPG) went distinctly unnamed.

Kurds and their Arab allies have every reason to be wary of the strength of the US commitment for the SDF. The so-called real-politik may yet cause the Americans to abandon the only trusted pro-western secular force in Syria in favour of a motley crew of jihadis backed by an unreliable NATO ally.

The Battle for al-Bab

The battle for al-Bab, in Syria, rages on. In an increasingly crowded combat zone around the ISIS-held town, Turkish forces and their jihadist Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies are in a race with Syrian Army and allied militia to be the first to capture the town. Russian air strike killed 3 Turkish servicemen and wounded 11 others yesterday in what Kremlin called a “friendly fire” incident. Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic forces (SDF) can only watch from sidelines as their resources, along with American support, are diverted further south towards ISIS capital Raqqa.

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It is now a matter of when al-Bab falls and what happens afterwards.

Continue reading “The Battle for al-Bab”

On Barbaros Sansal controversy

Barbaros Şansal is a Turkish fashion designer who calls himself a “tailor’s apprentice.” He is a cultural critic, TV host, producer, performer, and a university teacher. He is charming as well as abrasive; controversial while also entertaining. He is a flamboyant gay activist who was expelled from Turkey’s LGBT “Pink Life Association” for transphobic comments.

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On new year’s eve, Sansal posted a video on social media from Turkish Northern Cyprus, where he was holidaying, to his fans in Turkey. Following a short rant about the country, he ends with, “drown in your own shit, Turkey.”

Yesterday Sansal survived a lynch attempt in Istanbul airport after Turkish Cypriot government expelled him for insulting Turkey. Today he was arrested and is to face the court on “incitement’ charges.

This is the speed of turnaround for AKP government opponents now. From ordinary Facebook users to famous fashionistas to seasoned journalists, nobody can say they can speak freely in Turkey anymore. Criticism of the ruling power is considered an insult to the whole nation and may land one in jail, if not in hospital, within a short amount of time.

This particular controversy also proved convenient to the government as it deflected attention from ISIS-claimed Reina club attack in Istanbul. If only the police, not to mention lynch mobs and vigilantes, were as quick and eager to round up known ISIS supporters as they were with Sansal.

 

This article offers more and a roundup of reactions to Barbaros Sansal video, including one from a conservative commentator that this should be a “lesson to keyboard warriors and terrorist lovers.”

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What is noteworthy also is the Atta Turk portrait in the still image used for the piece, reportedly lifted from Twitter. It is not clear whether it was on Sansal or in the hand of an assailant, or whether the photo was altered later. It does not appear in the video.

Here is the comment that got Barbaros Sansal in hot waters (my translation):

“Of course of course. There is no question. 2017 has entered all of you. Happy new year! Enjoy it. Now take a deep breath, lie down to your side, and pull one knee to your stomach, relax your body, and pretend you are strained.

Can you write for me the name of the misery? While so many journalists are under arrest, while so many kids are subjected to abuse and rape, while corruption and bribery are running headlong, while bigots spread filth in the streets, are you still celebrating the new year?

Do you know what I am going to do now? I am going to drink all the alcohol in the bar and at home; all of it, all of it! I am not going to leave you a drop. I am going to transfer all my dollars to Switzerland; I am not going to leave a penny behind.

Moreover, I am in Cyprus. Turkish Northern Cyprus entered the new year -under pressure from Turkey- at the same time as Turkey did. There is another hour before [Greek] Cypriot Republic enters the new year. Soon I am going to Nicosia. I will celebrate it there once more. I will drink there too. All of it! No kisses for you. In the midst of so much scum, disgrace and misery, you go on celebrating too.

Drown in your shit, Turkey.”
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On Istanbul Attacks

Istanbul is Turkey’s most beautiful, modern and cosmopolitan city. Prime spots are along the Bosporus, where Turkey’s wealthy elite and the city’s old-time establishment reside in expensive historic properties that in the past used to be reserved for Ottoman government’s high-ranking officials. There is precious little space open to public along the coasts of the straits. Those lands and buildings not in private hands are usually educational institutions, some of which are used as setting to shoot soap operas.

The best of the coastline, and hence the schools by location, are on the cosy, tree-lined, Ciragan Street that stretches for 2 km from Besiktas to Ortakoy. There, midway between the two districts and opposite of the main entrance to Yildiz Palace & Park, is a seafarer’s Technical High School, now called Ziya Kalkavan Anadolu Denizcilik Meslek Lisesi. That is the school I boarded and studied for three years from the age of 14 to 16. I almost forgot my Kurdishness and became assimilated as a Turk in that school, hence my strong mixed feelings about the latest attacks.

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Last month, during a football game in Besiktas, twin attacks claimed by highly secretive Kurdish militant group TAK, an off-shoot of the PKK, killed 40 members of the security forces. It was in retaliation for the destruction and massacres wrought in Kurdish towns and districts in 2016. Today, in the early hours of the new year in a prominent night club in Ortakoy, 40 revelers were gunned down and as many wounded by men wearing Santa costumes. Only one police officer was killed. Let’s see if and when ISIS claims responsibility for this carnage against secular-minded civilians in the name of jihad.

Secular Turks, the vast majority of whom continue to kowtow to the racist fascist ideology and legacy of Turkey’s founder Atta Turk, in response to the AKP government’s slide towards Islamism, will again refuse to evaluate and accept the distinction between the nature and the reasons between two attacks and the parties behind them. It is safer to accept the AKP government’s lumping of them both as terrorists who cannot be negotiated with and must be fought off with greater military force. If anything, Kurds are the biggest threat to them because Atta Turk said so, as do Erdogan now.

The reality is a lot different. The war engaged in by the PKK and its off-shoot TAK is, in Clausewitz’s famous words, “politics by other means”. They respond in kind because Turkey refuses to accept that Kurdish parties are rational political actors representing legitimate demands and grievances of a large repressed minority population. Like it or not, the PKK’s cause against Turkish security forces is that of an admissible national liberation struggle, not unlike that of Kosovo against Serbia and that of Iraqi Kurds against Saddam. Successive Turkish governments have failed, and will fail again, to completely rout Kurdish fighters from the country, a la the mortal blow Sri Lankan government inflicted on the Tamil Tigers. Negotiation and a political solution is inevitable if Turkey wants to end the conflict with the PKK.

The same cannot be said of ISIS. The so-called Islamic State is not fighting for political settlement in a world of nations; its ideology, aim and fight are for world conquest. Even if the loony ISIS jihadist dream of bringing all the lands from India to Turkey to Andalusia under Islamic rule turn into reality, they will seek to invade lands from China to Argentina to spread the religion to those infidels who have not yet heard the word and wrath of allah. Islamists have no limits, know no boundaries, recognise no laws and admit to no conventions not found in Koran. They cannot be negotiated with in good faith or even reasoned with. With the promise of paradise in the afterlife, living or dying is a win-win situation for the Islamist terrorist.

Turks fail to acknowledge the sharp differences in the their threat assessments between the two. While retaliatory Kurdish militant attacks on security forces are condemned swiftly and loudly, ISIS attacks are acknowledged belatedly and in a more muted fashion. For example, according to T24 internet newspaper, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said, “there are signs but we can’t say which group did it.” Meanwhile the country’s pro-government newspaper columnists are blaming the night club owner: “If you expected an attack, why did you open the club for customers?” Turkey’s unaccountable religious leaders were declaring Christmas and New Year celebrations as apostasy, and there was a bizarre video footage of racist fascist Turks with Islamist hues first circumcising and then stabbing a Santa puppet in the final days of 2016.

Currently, the lead story on the web page of the pro-AKP government Yeni Safak is a criticism of the renowned Turkish affairs correspondent Amberin Zaman who tweeted, “will the [Turkish] attacks on the most effective anti-ISIS forces YPG [Kurdish ‘People’s Protection Froces’] and the SDG [Syrian Democratic Forces] continue I wonder?” Yeni Safak responded with “she defends terrorist against terror.” The Islamist paper refused to not only speculate that ISIS could be behind the latest atrocity in Istanbul, but saw no distinction between Western-backed groups and ISIS.

For the last few years, international observers mocked the spectacular collapse of Turkey’s ‘Zero Problems with neighbours policy in Syria and Iraq. Turkish soldiers are now in the north of Syria trying to block a corridor linking Kurdish cantons around the town of al-Bab. In so doing they have found themselves combating three sides also staking claim on the town: US-backed YPG/SDF, Russia-backed Assad regime, and Turkey’s friend-to-frenemy ISIS.

What should be of great concern now is whether the instability Turkey has caused in Syria and Iraq will blow back into Ankara’s face. The signs are there; a clear ideological divide between Kemalist establishment and the new Islamist current, mass-casualty attacks, a failed coup that cost hundreds of lives, mass purges of high ranking government officials from generals to judges of Constitutional Court on the claims that they belong to yet another alleged terror network in the Gulenist movement, a police force that shouts ‘Allahu Akbar’ while firing in the air, the arrest of many pro-Kurdish rights HDP parliamentarians and the push to ban legal Kurdish politics all together, and, most recently, Muslim preachers denigrating Christian symbols and calling for assassination of Kurdish figures. The country is slowly simmering for a major internal multi-faceted armed conflict under AKP’s leadership.

This morning I cast my mind to the two spots that were attacked within a month by ISIS and TAK in Ortakoy and in Besiktas. Like many Opera House walks that I make under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in many weekends during my high school years, I would walk on Ciragan Street to the western pylon of the Bosporus Bridge, where the ISIS-attacked night club is now located, and from there I would walk back towards Besiktas, often alongside playing grounds of my football team where TAK blew up a police bus. Having lived there for three years as a teenager, I feel a great deal of affection for that refined, historic city with many centuries-old buildings. Now, it is slowly metamorphosing into a war-zone like Beirut and Baghdad. That is sad to see.

Questioning Senator Graham

Senator Lindsey Graham of the US Congress questions Secretary of Defense Ash Carter on the links between Kurdish groups in Turkey and those fighting ISIS in Syria back in April. (full transcript here, pp 98-101). Turkish media went agog, and they still do, about Secretary Carter’s admission of the links which has long been an open secret.

There are other open secrets too. Turkey’s alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra terrorists, which is on the US terrorist lists, is well-known to all political actors and people following the events. Turkey’s blind eye to ISIS jihadism and its hand-in-glove fight against it was also witnessed by the world in Jarablus. Turkish military and al-Qaeda terrorists took the town without firing a shot. There are credible reports that ISIS fighters simply switched sides in Jarablus.

What is interesting in Senator Graham’s questioning of Secretary Carter is that he seems to care more about the open secret bothering the Turks than those that should bother Americans. According to Senator Graham, a ‘dumb policy’ is when the US supports the YPG who are fighting for a secular democratic government in Syria. The US support for Turkey, which supports enemies of America and the YPG, is not dumb policy by his reckoning.

If I were a journalist with an opportunity to question Senator Graham, it would be as follows:

Q1: Senator, is al-Qaeda responsible for killing Americans?

Q2: Is al-Nusra Front on the US terror list as the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda?

Q3: Is Turkey supporting al-Nusra and other jihadi rebels fighting our allies in the Kurdish YPG and Kurdish-Arab alliance of SDF?

Q4: Then how dumb is it that the US should let Turkey and our jihadi terrorist enemies kill our secular Kurdish friends?

Silver linings in the fog of Rojava

Like many observers in the international media, Foreign Policy magazine also states in no uncertain terms that Turkish-backed FSA jihadi rebel incursion in Syria to capture Jarablus is intended not against ISIS but to roll back Kurdish gains in the west of Euphrates.

This article as well as several other news sources have stated that the Kurdish YPG have transferred the control of Manbij to the Arab-Kurdish alliance of SDF and “returned to base” without mentioning when and how the alleged withdrawal took place.

FP also states that the FSA jihadi rebels who took Jarablus in the north of Manbij without a fight might move on to al-Bab where ISIS fighters retreated. Al-Bab is a Kurdish populated town in the west of Manbij and until a few days ago was in YPG’s sights. Kurds there must now wait longer for liberation.

If there is a silver lining to the dark clouds over Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan), that is the lack of convincing ideology, disorganisation and ineptitude of FSA rebels. They are not fighting and dying for a just cause but for the money they receive from Ankara. There is not a single town under FSA control that is administered properly. They will fail in al-Bab and Jarablus too.

As for the YPG’s withdrawal from Manbij, that resembles another incident during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. At the time, Kurdish control of Kirkuk was also a red line for Turkey. The Peshmerga liberated Kirkuk, Turkey complained, the USA ordered withdrawal, and the Kurdish government said “we are doing it right now”, which they never did. Kirkuk is the most heavily defended city in Kurdistan now.

The fog of war prevents us from observing the YPG’s withdrawal back to the east of the Euphrates. What we know is that if the FSA rebels want Manbij, they will have to fight and die for it like Kurds did to liberate it from ISIS barbarians.

On Kurdistan

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In the Middle East, fortunes can change in unpredictable ways. Sometimes they change for the better as slow as shifting sand dunes. Other times they can change overnight like an earthquake. One moment we nearly had a Kurdistan on the map as was the case in the aftermath of First World War. Then came a century during which all traces of Kurdistan were lost except to those who could still dream of it.

Instead, we had in Syria a nation state re-invented by the French who empowered the minority Alewites over and above Sunnis and Kurds. And where Kurdistan was supposed to be, we had Iraq, a nation state invented by the British who made Sunni minority the overlords of Shias and Kurds.

Take now the changing fortunes in Syria’s civil war. No one thought Assad regime would last when the uprising began in 2011. No one thought Free Syrian Army rebels would be so radicalised as to be indistinguishable from al-Qaeda. No one expected the rise of an even worse jihadi outfit in the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

And no one gave much chance to Kurds, who were the weakest and the most marginalised community in Syria when the civil war began, to emerge as the fiercest of all fighting forces with the international coalition’s air power above and the world’s goodwill behind them. The Kurds were not only the best fighters, men and women alike, but represented the secular democratic values that civilised nations held dear as well.

The ever shifting alliances in Syria’s four-sided civil war make the three-sided global wars involving Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia in George Orwell’s 1984 look like a simple game of checkers. Unlike in 1984, however, this is not a ruse to keep the populace occupied with war. This is a real existential battle to stay alive as individuals and as communities.

Each one of the four sides, the Assad regime, the FSA jihadis, ISIS and the Kurds, have found themselves on the brink of defeat at some stage of the war, and yet they have managed to recover. Each one of them have had to fight the other three at the same time at some stage.

Today it is the Kurds’ turn to face attacks from all three sides. Having recovered from the brink of defeat in Kobani a year ago with the late-coming US air support, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their Arab allies went on to inflict ISIS a series of defeats. Manbij was liberated only two weeks ago.

Now, however, the YPG is warding off assaults from the Russian-backed Assad regime in Hasakah, Turkish-backed FSA jihadis near Jarablus and Saudi-backed ISIS in al-Shaddadi. And now Kurds cannot count on the US-led coalition air power any more because the US has just decided to shift its support to FSA jihadis again.

By abandoning the Kurds, the USA is repeating their mistake in Iraq. Not the historic mistake that Henry Kissinger made in mid-1970s when he betrayed promises to the Iraqi Kurdish leader Melle Mustafa Barzani. That mistake ended up strengthening Saddam Hussein and hastened the end of Shah of Iran, both of which proved wrong and very bloody in the long run.

The mistake the USA is repeating today is the one that they made after the overthrow of Saddam in 2003: not investing in a Kurdistan as a lasting reliable western ally and not placing sufficient trust in the regional government (KRG) to the benefit of untrustworthy partners in Baghdad. That too have come back and will continue to come back to haunt the USA.

For example, during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Mosul and many nearby towns were captured from Saddam and later from the Sunni insurgency with the KRG help. Yet, the US forced the Kurds to hand them over to the Shia Arab government in Baghdad. In June 2014, the Iraqi army rapidly surrendered those towns and several billions dollars worth of arms back to the ISIS-led Sunnis.

Now it seems we are about to watch the same movie in Manbij. The USA is ordering the YPG to withdraw to the east of the Euphrates after liberating the city from ISIS. Why? Because the FSA jihadis are at hand to take over the crucial crossroad city that the Kurds and their Arab allies took at the cost of 300 lives.

Assuming the YPG did that, sooner or later the myriad of FSA jihadis will fight among themselves for full control of the city, or ISIS will return to capture it, or even the regime will march re-take it. And then the US will again ask the Kurdish forces to go liberate the city from whichever extremist group controlling it, just as it is likely to happen again across the border in Mosul.

This must stop. This vicious cycle must be broken. In Syria as well as in Iraq, Kurds must refuse to surrender lands they liberated from Assadist fascists, Sunni and Shia jihadis, and from medieval ISIS barbarians. I am heartened with the YPG’s statement that “in the west of Euphrates [we] are in our own country. We will not withdraw because Turkey or someone else wants it.”

For us Kurds, our once-in-a-century opportunity to establish an independent state is in danger as regional alliances have once again shifted against our national interests. We owe it to future generations to not let this opportunity slip away.

Now it is time for a greater Kurdish national unity. Now we must put aside all party politics and all petty tribal and personal squabbling, and speak to the world in a single united voice: “We are here in our own land and we are not giving it up without a fight!”

Biji Kurdistan!