Turkey

Syria: protests against Turkish 'reconciliation' call

Thousands of local residents held protests across the Turkish occupation zone in northern Syria on Aug. 12, to oppose calls by Ankara for "reconciliation" with the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, speaking to diplomats in Ankara the day before, said, "We have to somehow get the opposition and the regime to reconcile in Syria. Otherwise, there will be no lasting peace, we always say this." He also revealed that he met with the Syrian regime's Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad in October 2021 at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Angry protests, under the slogan "We will not reconcile," were held in the towns of al-Bab, Afrin and Jarablus, as well as areas controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in neighboring Idlib governorate. In the town of Azaz, a Turkish flag was burned by protesters. (Syria Direct, AFP)

Turkey escalates drone strikes on Rojava

A Turkish drone strike on July 22 targeted three members of the Women's Protection Units (YPJ) who were driving in a vehicle near the northeast Syrian town of Qamishli. All three women were killed, and several passers-by injured by shrapnel. The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights (SOHR) said that it was the second drone strike on territory of the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration in North & East Syria (AANES) in the past 48 hours. The YPJ is the women's wing of the People's Protection Units (YPG), the territorial defense force of the autonomous zone, in the region known to the Kurds as Rojava. Turkey has carried out repeated drone strikes on targets within AANES territory this year, amid apparent preparations for a new military incursion into the autonomous zone.

Europe rights court censures Turkey over detained activist

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled July 11 that Turkey violated a prior judgement in the case Kavala v. Turkey by keeping activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala in detention. Kavala was arrested in 2017, ostensibly for involvement in the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and an attempted coup d'etat in 2016. Kavala brought a complaint to the ECHR for wrongful detainment and won his case, with the court finding that there was insufficient evidence to prove any criminal intent to "overthrow the government." Turkey was ordered to release Kavala and pay damages. However, upon his release, Kavala was immediately detained again, this time on the charge of "espionage." Kavala was then sentenced to life in prison, and the ECHR opened infringement proceedings to determine whether this new sentence defied their original judgement.

Syria aid access resolution expires amid UN standoff

A Security Council resolution that allowed the UN to deliver humanitarian aid across Turkey's border into northwest Syria without President Bashar al-Assad's permission expired on July 10, as diplomats failed to come to a deal in the face of a Russian veto. Russia, which has long opposed the cross-border aid operation as an affront to Syrian sovereignty, used its veto to stop a one-year renewal on July 8. Its own proposal for a six-month extension was voted down by the United States, Britain, and France. While negotiations continued through the weekend on a compromise, there was no vote by the resolution's end date, the 10th.

Turkey arrests 16 Kurdish journalists

Turkish officials formally arrested and jailed 16 Kurdish journalists on June 16 after detaining 21 journalists for eight days without charges. Five of the original 21 were released. According to Turkey's Media & Law Studies Association (MLSA), the 21 journalists were originally detained on suspicion of "terrorism." The MLSA's Mehmet Ali Birand dismissed the validity of the charges, saying: "Most of these colleagues were working in media organs such as DİHA [news agency] and Özgür Gündem [newspaper]... None of these journalists participated in terrorist activities. None of these journalists carried a gun, pulled a trigger, or killed anyone." Turkish officials claimed the arrests were part of an investigation into the "press committee" of the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Podcast: Rojava and Ezidikhan in the Great Game

In Episode 127 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes that the Kurdish-controlled Syrian city of Kobani, which became a global icon of resistance to ISIS in 2014, is now under threat of Turkish aggression. The Syrian Kurds were betrayed in 2019, when their autonomous zone of Rojava was greatly reduced by Turkey's first thrust into their territory. Erdogan is now threatening to extinguish it altogether, and incorporate all of Rojava into his "security zone." There is growing speculation that the US could "green light" this aggression in exchange for Turkey dropping its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Meanwhile, the Yazidis of northern Iraq, who were subjected to genocide and slavery at the hands of ISIS in 2014, are facing extermination of their hard-won autonomous zone Ezidikhan at the hands of Baghdad's military—acting under pressure from Turkey. Great Power meddling in Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan alike is pitting the peoples of the region against each other, portending a potentially disastrous Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. How can activists in the West help break this trajectory? Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

Erdogan preparing new Syria incursion?

Over the past week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been ramping up threats to invade more areas of northern Syria, saying June 1 that he plans to "clean up [the Kurdish towns of] Tal Rifat and Manbij of terrorists," and establish a greater "security zone" in Syrian territory along Turkey's border. Much of this region is controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Turkey considers to be a "terrorist organization" because of its ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK)—a Turkey-based Kurdish separatist organization. It's not clear if Erdoğan will go ahead with a new incursion now, but some wonder if Western states (such as the US, which has backed the SDF) may be willing to turn a blind eye to such an offensive if Turkey backs off its objections to Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were forced to flee the last Turkish offensive in northeast Syria in late 2019, and a reported 44,000 to 60,000 people have still not been able to go back home.

Russian mercenaries accused in Libya atrocities

A report to the Security Council by a panel of UN human rights experts finds that foreign fighters and private military companies are responsible for grave abuses in Libya—especially naming Russia's Wagner Group. The report was classified "confidential," but a copy was leaked to the Associated Press. It finds that both Turkish-backed militias loyal to the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and the Wagner Group, apparently contracted by eastern warlord Khalifa Haftar, have employed mercenaries who were veterans of the internal war in Syria. The GNA-aligned militias are implicated in abuses of migrants, who have been "regularly subjected to acts of slavery, rape and torture." The Wager Group is accused of planting unmarked anti-personnel mines on the southern periphery of Tripoli, when the city was besieged by Haftar's forces from April 2019 to an October 2020 ceasefire.

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