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Archive for the ‘Kurds’ Category

Fighting the Caliph: U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and the Kurds

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On 9 May 2017, while holding a joint press confererence with the Danish Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen in Copenhagen, General Mattis told reporters the following in response to a query regarding the decision to arm Syria’s Kurds: “Yes, they — we had very open discussion with the Turks. It’s a NATO ally, and NATO allies stick together. That’s not to say, we all walk into the room with exactly the same appreciation of the problem or the path forward. We work that out through extensive dialogue. We’ve been conducting military and diplomatic dialogue with the Turks, and it was a very, very useful discussion today. We’re getting — as you know — into the position where we will have Raqqa surrounded. The idea is, ladies and gentlemen, that the foreign fighters not be allowed to escape and return to constitute a threat against free and innocent people elsewhere, whether it be in the Arabian Gulf, North Africa, and certainly Europe. By taking, for example, Manbij away from the enemy, that was the spoke of the hub and spoke of their terrorist effort against Europe, and that’s how they conducted the attacks against Brussels and Paris. So our intent is to work with the Turks, with — alongside one another to take Raqqa down and we’re going to sort it out and we’ll figure out how we’re going to do it, but we’re all committed to it and that’s what came out of today’s discussion”.i

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The U.S. Secretary of Defense clearly sidestepped the thorny issue of Turkey’s opposition to the Pentagon’s decision by means of simply ignoring the question and talking about the U.S.-Turkish relationship as if everything were hunky dory. Still, as reported by Reuters: “U.S. President Donald Trump has approved supplying arms to Kurdish YPG fighters to support an operation to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State, U.S. officials said on Tuesday [, 9 May 2017]”.ii Ankara regards the YPG as but the Syrian incarnation of the PKK, Turkey’s homegrown Kurdish terror group. In this connection, Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White made the following declaration: “We want to reassure the people and government of Turkey that the U.S. is committed to preventing additional security risks and protecting our NATO ally . . . We are keenly aware of the security concerns of our coalition partner Turkey”.iii

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Bülent Alirıza, director of the Turkey project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, on the other hand, made the following observations: “There have been bad episodes in the relationship between the United States and Turkey, but this one is serious because it gets to the heart of Turkish security priorities . . . You’ve now got a question mark over the U.S.-Turkish security relationship that is pretty serious”.iv Now, all eyes are on Tayyip Erdoğan’s upcoming visit to Washington, D.C.

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i “Joint Press Conference with Secretary Mattis and Minister Frederiksen in Copenhagen, Denmark” U.S. Department of Defense (09 Mauy 2017). https://www.defense.gov/News/Transcripts/Transcript-View/Article/1177882/joint-press-conference-with-secretary-mattis-and-minister-frederiksen-in-copenh/.

ii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire” Reuters (10 May 2017). http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-kurds-idUSKBN18525V.

iii Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

iv Phil Stewart, “U.S. to arm Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State, despite Turkey’s ire”.

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The Fight for Mosul

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The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s glossy magazine Foreign Policy‘s Paul McLeary and Adam Rawnsley write that “[o]ne week into the fight for Mosul, and the battle has expanded across Iraq, but has yet to start inside the city itself. Iraqi forces and Kurdish Peshmerga are within just a few miles of the city, pushing from the south, east, and north as an estimated 1,500 ISIS fighters are making a fighting retreat back into their fortified strongholds within Mosul. To slow the coalition’s advance, they’re lighting oil pits, sending columns of thick black smoke into the sky, and laying hundreds of buried bombs along the roadways. Just a few miles away, as many as 5,000 well supplied and deeply dug in ISIS fighters, surrounded by unwilling civilian human shields, await . . . American military officials have said they expect ISIS to lash out in other areas of Iraq to try and shift Baghdad’s attention from Mosul, and the assaults on Kirkuk on Friday, and Rutba in far western Iraq on Sunday — both hundreds of miles from Mosul — have pulled some troops into the fight to secure those cities. The fighting in both places continued through Sunday, with several suicide bombers hitting Kirkuk throughout the day. In Rutba, reports indicate that ISIS has taken control of half of the town . . . But the biggest surprise came Saturday, when Islamic State fighters lit a sulphur plant on fire, sending plumes of toxic smoke into the skies around Mosul. A defense official speaking on condition of anonymity told SitRep that U.S. troops at Camp Swift and Qayyarah West Airfield near Mosul “are in an area far enough away that there is minimal threat to any lasting health effects,” but all troops have gas masks, and they have the option of using them. About 1,000 Iraqi civilians have been sickened by the fumes already . . . The Pentagon is sending dozens of new intelligence analysts to Iraq to help sift through what leaders think will be an intelligence windfall when the city eventually falls. But hundreds of ISIS fighters have been fleeing the city though an open western corridor to Syria, one tribal chief near the border tells CNN. Big win for the Kurds, may anger Baghdad. The clouds of black smoke don’t appear to be slowing things down much. On Sunday, the Kurds look to have captured the ISIS-held town of Bashiqa, only five miles from Mosul, which would open up a critical lane into the city. But the victory might come at a long-term cost. The Kurds were supported by Turkish artillery, fired from a base near the town that houses hundreds of Turkish troops, along with dozens of tanks and artillery pieces. Baghdad says they’re there without the consent of the Iraqi government, and wants them out. Ankara refuses . . . U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter visited Turkey, Baghdad, and the Kurdish city of Erbil over the weekend to huddle with U.S. military commanders and local officials leading the fight. The visit produced some real tension, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi soundly rejected a preliminary agreement Carter appeared to have reached with Turkish officials that would open the door for Turkey to become more involved in the Mosul operation. While there were some vague threats of war last week over the base, Abadi toned things down Saturday, saying it’s “important for us to have good relations with Turkey…I know that the Turks want to participate, we tell them thank you, this is something the Iraqis will handle and the Iraqis will liberate Mosul.” But the Shiite militias that Baghdad is preparing to send west of Mosul aren’t looking to decrease tensions with Turkey. Just the opposite, the New York Times tells us . . . Spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, Col John L. Dorrian, Tweeted Sunday that the U.S. led coalition dropped over 1,400 munitions on ISIS positions around Mosul between Oct. 17 and 22, a record number of strikes over any other 5-day period since the bombing campaign kicked off in August, 2014 . . . The fight for Mosul has just started, but the ISIS capital of Raqqa ha[n]gs over the entire campaign. ‘We want to see an isolation operation begin around Raqa as soon as possible’, Ash Carter said Sunday. ‘We are working with our partners there (in Syria) to do that. There will be some simultaneity to these two operations'”.[1]

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[1] Paul McLeary with Adam Rawnsley, “Situation Report” Foreign Policy. (24 Oct 2016). http://link.foreignpolicy.com/view/53676c82f6e3a597524615234q8uf.1fvt/6de5645f.

President Assad’s interview with SBS NEWS AUSTRALIA

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 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has accused Western nations, including Australia, of doing deals with his country in secret an exclusive interview with SBS News reporter Luke Waters. The interview, filmed in Damascus after two years of negotiations, aired on Friday (1 July 2016) night on SBS.In the interview, President Assad said Western countries had double standards – openly criticising his government, in public, but continuing to deal with him in private.[1]

 

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[1] “Exclusive: Syrian President Assad says western countries secretly deal with his government” SBS (01 July 2016). http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2016/06/29/exclusive-syrian-president-assad-says-western-countries-secretly-deal-his.

Wily on TV: Talk to Al Jazeera with Ahmed Davutoğlu

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On 23 February 2016, Turkey’s wily PM Ahmed Davutoğlu spoke to the international broadcaster Al Jazeera: ‘Ahmet Davutoglu discusses the recent attacks in Turkey, the downed Russian military jet, and the refugee situation. Is there a possibility Turkey will lose its patience and order some sort of military intervention in Syria against Kurdish and government forces? And if so, is a military conflict with Russia imminent? (Published on Feb 24, 2016)’.

Therefore, one should lose track of the fact that the above conversation with the Qatari broadcaster took place well ahead of the ceasefire that came into effect in Syria at midnight on February 27. And here are some of his choice words once more: “We know how and when we will respond. Definitely, those who made this attack against our people, will pay the price, but how and when – we will decide – and when it happens, everybody will see that Turkey can respond [to] any challenges, any attack, against it”.[1] Furthermore, the PM assured that that Ankara “will be doing everything for Syrian brothers and sisters – without asking any assistance from anywhere – for refugees as well as for the heroic people in Syria . . . all Syrians, those, who are raising their voice against this aggression by the regime, by terrorists like YPG [Kurdish People’s Protection Units], Daesh [Islamic State, IS, formerly known as ISIS/ISIL] and foreign forces, who are invading Syria today, like Russia and Iran”.[2] Next he targeted Russia for bombing “all anti-regime forces, all groups – all Sunnis, Kurds, Turkoman, Arab, not important for them, and all those, who are against the regime. They continue to push this people to Turkey. And the international community is silent and surely does not want to help them” before issuing the outrageous claim that Putin is aiming “to create a refugee crisis in Turkey and the EU” and then adding this gem: “Turkey has the hearts of Syrian people. The Syrian people are with us. And nobody can defeat a people”.[3]

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[1] “Davutoglu on ISIL, Syrian refugees, and Ankara bombing” Al Jazeera (23 Feb 2016). http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/talktojazeera/2016/02/turkish-pm-attack-pay-price-160223073208847.html.

[2] “Turkey to keep supporting armed groups fighting Assad regime in Syria – PM Davutoglu” RT News (29 Feb 2015). https://www.rt.com/news/333904-davutoglu-turkey-invasion-syria-russia/?utm_source=browser&utm_medium=aplication_chrome&utm_campaign=chrome.

[3] “Turkey to keep supporting armed groups fighting Assad regime in Syria – PM Davutoglu”.

The Ankara Blast: 17 February 2016

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“A large explosion near Ankara’s Eskişehir Yolu detonated on the February 17. The explosion, reportedly caused by a car bomb, was carried out close to military headquarters, the parliament and various government ministries, including the Ministry of Interior. Hürriyet Daily News reported that the target of the attack was shuttle buses transporting military personnel, which has been confirmed by Ankara’s governor Mehmet Kılıçlar. The government is treating this as an act of terrorism but still looking into the cause. So far at least 28 people have been reported dead, with 68 injured; including military personnel. The number is believed to be much higher however as a large fire is obstructing rescue operations, added to by smaller fires caused by burning car engines and gasoline in the area”.[1]

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“The explosion was heard across Ankara. There is a large plume of smoke still visible above Ankara, showing the devastation caused by the blast. Roads in the area have now been blocked off for security purposes. Prime Minister Davutoğlu has cancelled his forthcoming trip to Brussels while this situation unfolds, and is to attend immediate security meetings. A broadcast ban has already been put in place on reporting non-official news of the bombing; however various news outlets have continued their coverage”.[2]

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“The timing of the explosion, during rush hour, has added to fears of growing casualties from the blast. The Health Ministry has sent 20 ambulances to the scene according to CNN Türk and is calling for blood donations. No one has claimed responsibility so far, but this is the fourth in a series of attacks on Turkish soil over the past few months, most of which have been linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The ISIL bombing in Ankara last year killed over 100 people, in the worst terrorist attack in Turkish history”.[3]

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“Internet censorship monitoring service TurkeyBlocks has confirmed that Turkish ISPs including TTNet have censored Twitter and Facebook by means of bandwidth throttling. The new blocks came around an hour after a major explosion in Turkey capital Ankara. Data indicates that the social media sites may still be accessible from smaller Internet Service Providers in the country – blocking orders are known to take some time to become fully active. The blocks took effect only minutes after the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) announced an immediate blanket media ban on reporting relating to the Ankara bombing incident, suggesting that a rapid response system may now be in place to automatically block social media services upon request. Despite the internet blocks, Facebook went ahead and debuted its “safety check” feature in the hours following the attack, allowing those in Ankara to let friends and family know if they are safe or have been hospitalised”.[4]

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[1] Indepedent Turkey, “Deadly Blast Rips through Ankara: Death Toll Rising”, Independent Turkey, 17 February 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link: http://researchturkey.org/?p=10792.

[2] Indepedent Turkey, “Deadly Blast Rips through Ankara: Death Toll Rising”.

[3] Indepedent Turkey, “Deadly Blast Rips through Ankara: Death Toll Rising”.

[4] “Twitter and Facebook Restricted in Turkey following Ankara bombing” D8News (17 Feb 2016). https://d8news.com/twitter-facebook-restricted-turkey-following-ankara-bombings-683.

We won’t be a Part of this Crime

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“1,128 academics from 89 universities in Turkey, and over 355 academics and researchers from abroad have signed a text calling on state of Turkey to end state violence and prepare negotiation conditions”.[1]

Barış İçin Akademisyenler

‘As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.

We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.

We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met”. (BK/TK)’.[2]

For international support, please send your signature, name of your university and your title to info@barisicinakademisyenler.net.

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[1]“Academics: We will not be a Party to This Crime” English Bianet (11 Jan 2016). http://bianet.org/english/human-rights/170978-academics-we-will-not-be-a-party-to-this-crime.

[2] http://www.barisicinakademisyenler.net/node/63.

Armenian Genocide: Survivors Recall Events 100 Years On

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Diana Markosian: “I was never interested in pursuing work on the Armenian genocide. When I started this project, it was still just a vague historical narrative. I knew that, in 1915, the Ottomans initiated a policy of deportation and mass murder to destroy their Armenian population. And that, by the First World War’s end, more than a million people were eliminated from what is now modern-day Turkey. But I had no idea of the personal toll the genocide exacted on my own family, or the sense of connection I would slowly come to feel through making this piece. I am Armenian, but I was born in Moscow and raised in America. For most of my life, I struggled with my Armenian identity, partly because of the history one inherits. It is something I understood but never fully embraced. Then a year ago, I happened to be in Armenia when a foundation approached me, requesting help in finding the remaining genocide survivors. I pursued voter registrations online to see who was born before 1915, and then traveled cross-country to find them. That’s how I met Movses and Yepraksia — who lived past their hundredth year. When I met them, they shared with me memories of their early homes. Movses was born in the village of Kebusie in Musa Dagh Mountain not far from the Syrian border. Yepraksia lived in a small village near Kars on the Armenian border. They hadn’t seen their home since escaping a century ago. I wanted in some way reunite each of the survivors with their homeland. I decided to travel back Turkey to re-trace their last memories. When I told the survivors I would be visiting their native land, each one asked me to fulfill a wish. Movses, from Musa Dagh, drew a map of his village, and asked me to find his church and leave his portrait on the footsteps of what are now ruins. He hadn’t seen his home in 98 years. In his village, I found everything he had described to me: the sheep, the fruit he remembered eating, and the sea. I even found the ruins of what was once his church. Yepraksia, from a small village in Kars, asked me to help her find her older brother who she separated from after 1915. Once I returned to Armenia, I created billboard-sized images of the survivors’ homelands as a way of bridging the past and present. All these years later, upon delivering the image, the survivors grabbed on, as if by holding the image close they would be taken back to a place they called home many years ago. This is a story of home — everything they had, everything they lost. And what they have found again”. (Published on Dec 24, 2015)’.

Markosian says that “[b]efore this project I didn’t even feel comfortable identifying myself as Armenian, partly because of the history one inherits. But I started to find parallels between myself and [the survivors]—forced from our homeland and forced to give up some of our past. It intimately connected me with the people”.[1]

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[1] Coburn Dukeheart, “100 Years Later, Visualizing a New Armenian Narrative” National Geographic (09 October 2015). http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/author/cdukehart/.