The local Kurdish Asayish militia announced April 26 that it has taken control of the last contested district of the northeast Syrian town of Qamishli from pro-regime forces. An Asayish statement said that after several days of fighting, al-Tay neighborhood is to be in their hands under terms of a truce with the pro-regime National Defense Forces (NDF), enforced by Russian troops and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). "The residents of al-Tay neighborhood who left their homes due to escalation will be assisted by our forces to return to their homes," the Asayish statement said.
Kurdish left-wing politician Selahattin Demirtaş was sentenced to three years and six months in prison by a Turkish court on March 22 for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Demirtas, a leader and co-founder of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), was given the maximum punishment for the offence. He has been imprisoned since November 2016 along with several other HDP leaders. The charge against him concern statements he made in 2015 at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul, where he said Erdoğan "fluttered from corridor to corridor" during a Paris conference in the hopes of getting a picture with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He also said that the government had betrayed the country by mismanaging the diplomatic crisis between Russia and Turkey after Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border.
Ten years ago this week, the Syrian Revolution began with peaceful pro-democracy protests. The first demonstrations broke out in the city of Deraa after local schoolchildren painted a mural depicting scenes and slogans from the recent revolutions in other Arab countries, and were detained and brutalized by the police. The Bashar Assad regime responded to the demonstrations with serial massacres. After months of this, the Free Syrian Army emerged, initially as a self-defense militia to protect protesters. But the situation soon escalated to an armed insurgency. The regime lost control of large areas of the country, and local civil resistance committees backed by the FSA seized control. Assad then escalated to levels of violence rarely seen on Earth since World War II.
Internecine fighting among collaborationist militia in the Turkish-occupied northern Syrian town of Afrin left at least two civilians dead in the crossfire last month. Clashes broke out Feb. 13 between Jabha al-Shamiya (Levant Front) and the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam)—two armed groups affiliated with the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). Shops and civilian homes were also damaged in the clashes. Witnesses and local sources told the independent Syrians for Truth & Justice that the fighting began when Levant Front militants attempted to arrest a member of the Army of Islam who they suspected of smuggling people across border into Turkey.
Turkey's Court of Cassation on Feb. 19 upheld the two-and-a-half-year prison sentence given to Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights activist and MP belonging to the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization." In 2016, Gergerlioğlu raised alarm in parliament and on social media platforms about detained women being subjected to unlawful strip searches by police in the city of Uşak for "security reasons." He was later accused by the Uşak Police and several members of the ruling Justice & Development Party (AKP) of being involved in terrorist activities. Gergerlioğlu was initially sentenced by the Kocaeli 2nd High Criminal Court in February 2018, and the decision was affirmed on appeal by the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice. Following this, an appeal was made to the Court of Cassation.
The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on Feb. 15 sentenced four former employees of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem, shut down by a Turkish court order in 2016, to imprisonment on "terrorism" charges. Former editor Eren Keskin, who is also a prominent lawyer and human rights advocate, received a six-year sentence for "membership of an armed terrorist organization." Özgür Gündem's former publisher, Kemal Sancılı, and former managing editor, İnan Kızılkaya, received sentences of six years and three months on the same charge. Former editor-in-chief Zana Kaya was sentenced to two years and one month for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization."
Iraqi Kurdistan saw simultaneous air attacks Feb. 15—from Turkish warplanes on a mountain supposedly harboring PKK guerillas, and (in a far more audacious move) from an Iran-backed militia on the regional capital Erbil. In the latter attack, a barrage of rockets targetted a US airbase outside Erbil's airport. A foreign "civilian contractor" was killed, and nine others, including US personnel, were wounded. It is being called the worst attack in a year on the US-led military coalition in Iraq. A nearby apartment complex and market were also damaged, and some reports indicate the Chinese consulate was hit by either a stray rocket or debris.
President Joe Biden's pledge to rebuild the Iran nuclear deal is already deteriorating into a deadlock—a testament to the effectiveness of the Trump-era intrigues that sabotaged the agreement, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On Feb. 7, Biden and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei each traded "You Go First" statements. Biden was asked on Face the Nation, "Will the US lift sanctions first in order to get Iran back to the negotiating table?" He replied, "No." He was then asked, "They have to stop enriching uranium first?" Biden nodded. On that same day, Khamenei told military commanders and staff: "If they want Iran to return to its JCPOA commitments, the US should remove all sanctions in action. After they have done this, we will check if the sanctions have truly been removed. Once this is done, we will resume our JCPOA commitments." (EA Worldview)