While the world media cheer the taking of Ramadi in Iraq—supposedly by government troops, but in fact spearheaded by sectarian Shi'ite militias—comparatively little note is made of advances against ISIS by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). An alliance of revolutionary Kurds and secular Arab militias, the SDF continues to take ground from ISIS in Syria's north. On Dec. 27, the SDF announced the taking of the strategic Tishreen Dam, which had been held by ISIS for over a year, and generates electricity for much of Syria's north. Its taking will ease electricity and water shortages in Kobani, the Kurdish town where the tide was first turned against ISIS in the region a year ago. SDF officer Rami Abdel Rahman told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that the eastern Euphrates Valley is now cleared of ISIS and "the battles are now on the western bank of the river." (Rudaw, Dec. 27)
Thousands of jubilant Kurds flooded the streets of Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, on June 7, setting off fireworks and waving flags as election results showed the pro-Kurdish opposition likely to enter parliament for the first time. Initial results show the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) taking 80 of 550 seats—a major setback for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party is poised to lose its majority. Erdogan had been counting on the AKP majority to push through constitutional changes giving him broad executive powers. The elections also brought three Armenians to the Turkish parliament after a lapse of several years—one from the HDP, one from the AKP, and one from the Republican People's Party (CHP). Two members of Turkey's small Yazidi community were also elected on the HDP ticket.
At an event held in Sweden, the Kurdish mayor of the eastern Turkish city of Mardin, Ahmet Türk, apologized to the Armenians, Assyrians and Yazidis for the fact that some Kurdish ashirets (clans) had been accomplices during the Genocide of 1915. "Unfortunately, the Kurds, who implemented and executed the government's decision taken in 1914-15, were overtly used under the name of Islam," Türk said. "We now feel the bitterness about the participation of our fathers and forefathers in those massacres as their children and grandchildren... We ask the Armenians and the Assyrians and our Yezidi brothers to forgive us." (ArmenPress, Dec. 16) Türk was party chair of the Democratic Society Party (DTP), which was banned in 2009 for alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
News agencies in the Middle East report that ISIS militants have destroyed the Armenian Genocide Memorial Church in Der Zor, the Syrian site where Turkish forces established concentration camps for deported Armenians during World War I—known as the "Auschwitz of the Armenian Genocide." The reports surfaced as Armenia was celebrating the 23rd anniversary of its independence Sept. 21. Armenia's Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandian issued a statement calling the destruction of the church a "horrible barbarity." The church was built in 1990, and consecrated a year later. A memorial and museum housing remains of the genocide victims was also built in the church compound. Thousands of Armenians from Syria and neighboring countries gathered at the memorial every year on April 24 to commemorate the genocide. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians perished in Der Zor and the surrounding desert during the genocide. (Armenian Weekly, Sept. 21)
Kurdish forces announced that they have taken full control of Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled before the ISIS offensive nearby Nineveh governorate. "The whole of Kirkuk has fallen into the hands of peshmerga," Kurdish spokesman Jabbar Yawar told Reuters. "No Iraq army remains in Kirkuk now." The fall of Mosul, Nineveh's capital and the country's second city, to ISIS threatens to unravel the delicate political balance in Iraq's north. Kirkuk and the surrounding governorate of Tamim (see map) has long been at the heart of a dispute between Iraq's Arabs and Kurds. ISIS is reported to be shelling areas south of Kirkuk. "After their defeat by the Peshmerga, the ISIS are now shelling the liberated areas from a distance, using seized Iraqi weapons," said Anwar Haji Osman, the Kurdistan Regional Government's deputy minister of Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed force.
An estimated 2,000 Armenians from the town of Kessab, on Syria's border with Turkey, have taken refuge in the coastal city Latakia following the occupation of their town by jihadist forces. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) reported on a number of eye-witness accounts of the looting and seizure of Armenian homes, stores, and churches in Kessab. The armed incursion began March 21, as rebels associated with the Nusra Front, Sham al-Islam and Ansar al-Sham crossed from the Turkish side border. Snipers targeted the civilian population and launched mortar attacks on the town and the surrounding villages. Syrian government troops reportedly tried to push the attackers back. (Asbarez, Asbarez, March 25)
Syria's minority peoples are especially targeted by the jihadist rebels—and therefore generally wary of foreign intervention against the Bashar Assad regime. The Armenians, like other Syrian Christians, face growing attacks, with the US-based Armenian Weekly July 31 reporting a wave of abductions and slayings, including of children, by unnamed rebel factions. Zarmik Poghikian of Aleppo-based Armenian journal Gandzasar told Radio Free Europe Aug. 31: "The Armenian community is neutral, but it is concerned, because this possible strike will be delivered against the whole country and everyone without exception will suffer. Leaders of the Armenian community have urged people to remain cautious during these days and refrain from attempting to leave the city, but even if someone wanted to do so there is no opportunity anymore, as all roads are closed."