Kurds of All Denominations Could Ultimately Destroy the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq
Vice News - Amid the chaos in Syria, the country's Kurds have managed to resist the advances of the Islamic State and carve out a zone of unprecedented autonomy in their own lands.
Over the past year, the YPG Kurdish militia beat back the Islamic State (IS) and nearly tripled the size of Kurdish-controlled territory in Northern Syria, all the while helping shrink the size of the IS caliphate by around 14 percent.
That's according to a new report by the IHS Jane's, a private intelligence company that analyzes international security issues, and has been tracking the ground war in Syria.
As a result, the Kurds are essentially in control of their own mini-state — which they call Rojava — that runs across the Turkish-Syrian border. Administered by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) the political arm of the YPG, the government in Rojava has reached an understanding with the Assad regime that allows the Kurds to govern their own territory, while beating back IS from the borders.
"The Kurds have had autonomy thrust upon them," explained Michael Gunter, a professor of political science at Tennessee Tech University, and the author of Out of Nowhere: The Kurds of Syria in Peace and War, a recent study of Kurdish politics in Syria. "There's no way they will go back to a subservient position of not controlling their own lands anytime in the future."
Syria's Kurds had long been denied self-determination by president Bashar al-Assad and his father Hafez, who both discouraged celebration of Kurdish identity — Hafez even banned their language from schools. But the Syrian Civil War forced Assad to focus his energies elsewhere. And as the Syrian military was re-deployed away from Kurdish territory beginning in 2012, the Kurds seized the initiative, mobilizing militias and asserting control over their own territory with the tacit approval of the Assad regime, which is much more focused on shoring up its major cities than butting heads with the Kurds.
Assad and the Kurds now jointly administer the city of Qamishli, and share control of the oil rich region of Hasakah. That uneasy alliance has been made possible by a mutual enemy: The Islamic State. Since the Islamic State captured Raqqa — the city it consider its capital — back in 2013, the Kurds have shared a long border with the group that stretches across most of northern Syria. Over the past year, the Kurds have fought — and won — two key battles against IS, shoring up their own territory, and cutting off much of IS access to the Turkish border.
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the Islamic State laid siege to Kobani, a Kurdish city on the western edge of Rojava. Kurdish fighters, backed by US airpower, lifted the siege and pushed IS back, effectively liberating the area by the end of January, 2015. In the following months, as IS focused its energies on major cities in Iraq and Syria, the Kurds were able to capture the villages and countryside outside the city, dealing a major territorial blow to IS.
The IHS Jane's report explains that IS lost so much ground to the Kurds because it did not have the military resources to fight on all its fronts.
"Geospatial analysis of our data shows that Islamic State activity outside areas it controls is heavily concentrated around Baghdad and Damascus, but much less so in Kurdish territory," explained Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS, and lead analyst for the IHS Conflict Monitor. "This indicates that the Islamic State was overstretched."With IS fighting a multi-front battle against a dizzying array of adversaries —al Qaeda, the Free Syrian Army, the Assad regime and its allies — the Kurds continued to seize the initiative.
In the Spring of 2015, the YPG launched an offensive to take out the IS-controlled border crossing of Tal Abyad, a strategic key city that lies between Kobani in the West and the bulk of Kurdish territory in the East. Fighting between IS and the Kurds — who were backed by US air support — displaced more than 16,000 people.
This past October, Tal Abyad was officially cleared of IS fighters, and integrated into Rojava. The Kurdish victory was made possible, Strack said, because IS had redeployed its forces to far-flung battles in western Syria and Iraq.
"The remaining forces in Tal Abyad were so depleted that they had to be re-enforced with... religious police units from Raqqa," Strack explained.For the Kurds in Syria, the fight against IS has been existential.
"It's a struggle for their very lives," Gunter said.But it's also been an opportunity to forge an entirely new political culture in the burgeoning lands under their control. Rajava is governed by a co-presidents Asya Abdullah and Salih Muslim Muhammad, who espouse a secular, leftist, and unabashedly feminist worldview drawn from the writings of the Kurdish nationalist thinker Abdullah Ocalan, who sits in a Turkish jail.
"They see themselves as a post-state, utopian project," Gunter explains.But so far, building a new society sandwiched between IS, Assad, and Turkey is far from utopian. IS continues to launch deadly suicide raids into Kurdish territory, and Turkey has more than once bombed YPG positions across the Syrian border as punishment for Rojava's links to the Turkish Kurdish militant group the PKK.
With no end in sight in the Syrian Civil War, the Kurds are hunkering down.
"They live amidst a series of broken states," Gunter said. "There's no way to know what the future will be."Click here to watch VICE News' documentary PKK Youth: Fighting for Kurdish Neighborhoods.
The Fifth Column - Since August, The Fifth Column has been presenting The Case for an Independent Kurdistan. Given the geopolitical climate in the region, TFC believed readers who wanted to stay ahead of the news deserved the background information necessary to understand the coming shift in the Middle East. A special newsfeed was established to cover Kurdish developments. The moment we predicted may have arrived.
A cell phone recovered from the body of an Islamic State commander may have set in motion a chain of events that will alter the face of Middle Eastern politics and the maps of the region. For those who are just learning of the subject, a quick overview is in order. The Kurdish people saw their ethnic homeland divided up when Europeans drew the maps of the Middle East. There are roughly 40 million Kurds, most of whom reside in specific regions of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. These regions make up what is commonly known as Kurdistan.
Kurds are different from most in the Middle East in the fact that they identify themselves by their ethnicity rather than their religious affiliation. While many in the region will describe themselves as “Sunni” or “Shia”, the Kurds identify as “Kurds”. There are Kurds of every possible religion. As a whole, they are liberal. This is especially true when compared to neighbors in the region. Women have rights. Iraqi Kurdistan has domestic violence laws. Education and community are paramount. A nation born from this ethnic group would be the beacon of freedom in the Middle East George Bush hoped Iraq would become.
The Iraq war saw Kurds in Iraq obtain recognized self-rule with a great deal of autonomy. Iraqi Kurdistan has its own police and army. It’s a volunteer army that has successfully kept the Islamic State at arm’s length.
In Syria, NATO’s plans for the destabilization of President Assad gave Syrian Kurds de facto autonomy. Those in Rojava for example, couldn’t care less what laws were passed in Damascus. The Kurds in Syria are ready for independence.
Kurds in Turkey are in the midst of an insurrection and have called for self-rule. This demand will most likely be ignored by the Turkish government and war will follow. Iranian Kurdistan is comparatively peaceful.
Three separate Kurdish regions have either already attained autonomy or are attempting to. These three regions could form a continuous area if present borders were erased.
Turkish forces had long been suspected of being involved in NATO’s plan to destabilize Syria. Turkey was believed to be clandestinely supporting the Islamic State. Last week, a cell phone pulled from the corpse of a dead ISIS commander was reported to have the contact information of Turkish Intelligence. Shortly before that, Turkish troops had quietly staged a build up inside Iraq without the permission of the Iraqi government. It was a low-intensity invasion.
Inside Turkey, Kurds have been subjected to mounting violence and oppression. TFC’s Woman of the Year, Nudem Durak, was imprisoned for singing in Kurdish. The seeds of insurrection were growing and open violence had repeatedly broken out, though it was short lived.
Since the cell phone discovery, things have began to take on a life of their own. An apparently ultra-violent group of former PKK (Kurdish Worker’s Party) soldiers staged a mortar attack on the international airport in Istanbul. This group, known as the Freedom Falcons of Kurdistan, released a statement on the web which informed readers they were forced to act against the “war coalition” of Turkey and the Islamic State. On Saturday, firefights broke out between the Kurdish PKK and Turkish troops. Shortly thereafter, the Iraqi Foreign Minister warned Turkey that if it did not completely withdraw its troops from Iraq, military confrontation was inevitable. Then a Kurdish Member of Parliament in Iraq told the negotiation team discussing the future of Iraq that it needed to make Kurdish independence a reality soon. Today in Turkey, the PKK detonated and explosive device and killed 3 Turkish soldiers.
The Kurds are ready and are pushing for independence. They need a world power to recognize the independence of a new country and supply them with weapons and economic deals to bolster a fledgling nation. If only there was some ex-intelligence officer running a major world power that was currently in a politically tense situation with Turkey.
This week President Putin of Russia extended an invitation to the major Kurdish political party from Turkey to come visit him and his Foreign Secretary in Moscow. It should be noted that while the PKK is an illegal organization inside Turkey, the group has ties with Moscow stretching back to the 1990s. It is expected that the PKK will contact Moscow about obtaining anti-tank missiles to be used against the Turkish armored vehicles currently keeping Turkish Kurdistan under curfew.
Also today, Syrian Kurds moved West of the Euphrates River in direct defiance of warnings from Turkey. A pro-Kurdish member of parliament referred to this century as “the century of the Kurds” and suggested they may have autonomous regions or even independent states.
The west planned on destabilizing Syria since 2006. It appears that in attempting to be masters of the universe, the NATO alliance will succeed in redrawing the map. It just won’t be the way they imagined. Luckily for the ever-hungry belly of the West’s war Frankenstein, if NATO is able to salvage its relationship with the Kurds, the remaining section of Kurdistan under Iranian control will give the West the pretext it has been searching for to invade Iran and establish regime change.
“I am puzzled by God’s wisdom
That, among all nations, has
denied Kurds a state of their own!”
New York Post - This is how Kurdish poet Ahmadi Khani expressed his people’s feelings in “Love and Life,” the epic he composed in 1690.
Three centuries later, the Kurds still don’t have a state but represent a spider’s-web set of ethnic and sectarian fractures that threaten the integrity of at least five nations.
At the time Khani wrote, a majority of mankind lived in a dozen empires or a jigsaw of isolated tribal entities with the concept of nation-state unknown outside Europe.
Now, in a world dotted with 198 nation-states, the Kurds represent the largest “nation” without a “state.”
Stuck in the center of every Middle East conflict, the Kurds are a rarity: a sympathetic ally. Supporting them is not without risk, as it could cause even more upheaval in the region, but if the US acts strongly and prudently, the Kurds could help keep Iran, ISIS and others in check.
A Kurdish protestor wears a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) t-shirt, and waves a Turkish flag during the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) rally, ahead of Turkey’s general elections this past June. Almost half of all Kurds live in Turkey, making Turkish Kurds a quarter of the population. Photo: Getty Images
While there is no Kurdish state, there certainly is a Kurdish “space” designated by the Persian-Kurdish word “Kurdivary,” which means “Kurdishness.”
That space spans a large chunk of the Middle East plus a large Kurdish diaspora.
The many communities included in “Kurdivary” number between 30 and 40 million people, according to who is counting:
- Almost half live in Turkey, representing a quarter of the population.
- The second-largest community, more than 5 million, is in Iraq.
- A further 4 million in Iran.
- Syria is home to 2.2 million Kurds.
- Armenia and Azerbaijan, both former Soviet republics, are home to around 1 million Kurds.
In Turkey, ethnic Kurdish voters helped sweep the conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power more than a decade ago and saw it through three successful general elections. In exchange the AKP, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now president of Turkey, took a series of measures to lift decades old anti-Kurdish measures, including a ban on even mentioning the word “Kurd” in the media.
In 1991, an elected member of the Turkish parliament, Leyla Zana, nicknamed “Kurdish la Pasionaria,” took the oath of office in Kurdish, provoking a national scandal. Ten years later, no one noticed what language newly elected parliamentarians used.
Erdogan also negotiated a cease-fire with the Kurdistan Workers party (PKK), a leftist guerrilla movement initially seeking to create a Soviet-style republic. Now, however, with Erdogan developing neo-Ottoman fantasies, a growing number of Turkey’s Kurds have abandoned AKP in favor of a new outfit, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP), that has emerged as the country’s major opposition force.
Turkish demonstrators shout nationalists slogans during a protest against the PKK in Istanbul in August. The PKK has attacked military targets since the Turkish government launched air strikes on rebel camps in Iraq on July 25th. Photo: Reuters
Relations between AKP and the Kurds have also suffered from Erdogan’s decision to revive the military campaign against the PKK in the hope of appealing to the Turkish nationalist groups. Kurds were especially shaken when Erdogan turned a blind eye to the ISIS campaign to seize Kurdish territory and conduct massive ethnic cleansing in favor of Arab Sunni Muslims.
Last weekend, 99 people were killed at a rally that was calling for an end to fighting between the Turkish government and PKK. It’s unclear who was behind the bombing, though officials were pointing fingers at ISIS.
In next month’s general election, Kurdish voters may spell the end of Erdogan’s domination of Turkish politics. More importantly, perhaps, Turkey’s Kurds seem to have undergone a major ideological shift away from both Stalinism and romantic 19th century-style nationalism in favor of pluralist and democratic positions.
The idea of a truly democratic Turkey in which Kurds enjoy a large measure of autonomy within semi-federal structures is gaining ground with a young generation of politicians symbolized by the HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas.
Such a scenario could provide Turkey with a new basis for long-term stability.
A female fighter from the Kurdish People Protection Unit (YPG) on the front line in the Syrian city of Hasakeh. Photo: Getty Images
- In Syria -
In neighboring Syria the picture is different. There, Kurds are divided into three camps.
One camp, consisting of half a dozen groups and parties, has sought an arrangement with the Bashar al-Assad government in Damascus in exchange for promised concessions such as the restoration of Syrian nationality to over 1.2 million ethnic Kurds who were declared “non-Syrians” in the 1970s.
A group of Syrian Kurds return to their hometown in Kobani, after ISIS was pushed out. In the 1970’s, Syria declared over 1 million ethnic Kurds “non-Syrians.” Photo: Getty Images
Another camp consists of several associations and tribes working with Iraqi Kurds, who are led by Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan. The goal is to create an extended Kurdish autonomous region in both Iraq and Syria. That camp is backed by Barzani’s Peshmerga fighters in his 50,000-strong national guard.
A third camp is represented by the PKK, which has had a presence in Syria for almost four decades. Its Syrian branch, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has concluded that Syria will never again emerge as a unitary state and that time has come for Kurds to carve out a mini-state of their own in at least three Syrian provinces bordering Turkey and Iraq. Turkey is not alone in opposing such a scheme.
Members of the YPG stand on top of a tank bearing the ISIS militant logo in Hasakeh, Syria. While some Syrian Kurds hope for an extended Kurdish autonomous region, others (like the PKK) want to create a mini-Kurdish state. Photo: Getty Images
- In Iran -
Iran also is concerned because a mini-Kurdish state dominated by PKK would block the channel that Iran needs to send men and arms to the rest of Syria and beyond it to Lebanon. The PKK has retaliated by reactivating its Iranian branch, known as Kurdish Party of Life (PJAK), which has carried out a series of attacks in western Iran since 2013. That, in turn, has soured relations between Tehran and the PKK further, with the Iranians no longer allowing Kurdish fighters attacking targets in Turkey to use safe havens in Iranian territory.
- In Russia -
Russia is equally hostile to the PKK scheme because Kurdish secession could speed up the end of Assad’s regime in Damascus while threatening the Syrian coastal enclave that President Vladimir Putin hopes to transform into a permanent base in the Mediterranean.
- Rifts Between the Kurdish Movements -
Making things more complicated are the rifts between the Kurdish movements.
Iraqi Kurdistan has flourished, after the US invasion of Iraq gave them more anonymity. It sees a Kurdish mini-state in Syria as a potential rival for the leadership of all Kurds. This is why Barzani has drawn closer to Turkey, a move that has sharpened differences with PKK.
Barzani’s pro-Ankara tilt, in turn, has angered Tehran which, as the principal backer of President Assad, finds itself on the opposite side of Turkey in the Syrian war. Thus, Tehran is now pulling no punches to dislodge Barzani from his presidential position in Erbil. Iran is encouraging a complex power struggle among Iraqi Kurds that could split the area into two units.
One important result of the internecine feuds of the Kurds is Barzani’s decision to kick the plan for declaring independence from Iraq into long grass while he fights to prolong his presidential term which ended last August.
On Iran’s homefront, meanwhile, the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI), one of the country’s oldest political parties, has for the first time committed itself to working for regime change in Tehran.
A smaller, left-wing outfit Kurdish Toilers’ Party (Komala) long has pursued a strategy of armed resistance against the Islamic Republic.
- Kurdistan rising? -
Partly thanks to the spread of social media, the concept of “Kurdivary” is more alive than ever, appealing to the imagination of far larger numbers of ethnic Kurds across the globe. For instance, when Tehran-born Omid Kordestani, an ethnic Kurd but now a US citizen, was named CEO of Twitter last week, a tsunami of pride hit “Kurdivary” across the globe.
What would a united Kurdish state look like?
It would consist of chunks of territory from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Its largest city, in terms of number of inhabitants, would be Kermanshah, in Iran, while perhaps a majority of Kurds want Amid (Diar-Bekyr) in Turkey as the capital of their dream state.
Thousands of ethnic Kurds from the US, Germany, France and even Australia might rush to the dream state to help build it as did Italians from all over the world when an Italian state was created in 1870.
However, the mirror image of that dream could be a nightmare of epic proportions with at least four Middle Eastern states determined to crush the secessionist aspirations of their Kurdish citizens while rival Kurdish parties would fight among themselves over who should be in the driver seat.
Those internal differences are significant. The Kurds speak four different, though closely associated, languages, written in four different alphabets - Arabic, modified Persian, Turkish-Latin, and Cyrillic. Though a majority of Kurds are Sunni Muslims, they are divided into numerous “schools,” not to mention Sufi fraternities.
Even Shiite Kurds are divided into many sects, including the People of the Truth (Ahl-e-Haq) and Alevites.
Zoroastrian Kurds, better known as Yazidis, form an important community of their own, as do Kurdish Christians.
Inside the Kurdish majority areas and on their peripheries are a number of other ethnic groups, including the Faylieh in Iraq and the Elamites in Iran that, though closely linked with Kurdivary, could play “identity” games of their own.
The Kurdivary space is also dotted by other religious and ethnic groups notably Turcomans, Azeri and Armenians.
In other words, the mosaic that is the Middle East could be broken again and again.
- On our side -
The only major defeats suffered by ISIS so far, were the work of Kurdish fighters. Photo: Getty Images
Kurdish particularism is, in part, a natural reaction to the emergence of pan-Arab, pan-Turkish and pan-Iranist nationalisms as developed in the past 100 years under European influence, with the dream of imposing a single national-cultural narrative on a region steeped in diversity from the dawn of history. In more recent decades, pan-Islamism, in both its Sunni and Shiite versions, has fostered a similar ambition with tragic results.
By rejecting uniformity in the name of narrow nationalism or Islam, the Kurds have rendered a great service to the people of the Middle East as a whole. The Kurdish quest for diversity was often backed by the Western democracies, including the United States. Under President Obama, however, the US was put in retreat mode in the Middle East, removing the sole power capable of influencing virtually all segments of Kurdivary.
Kurds of all denominations are now at the forefront of the struggle to contain and ultimately destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Despite more than a year of airstrikes by the US and other NATO allies, the only major defeats suffered by ISIS were the work of Kurdish fighters. The battle of Kobani, a Kurdish city in Syria close to the Turkish border, will enter history as the first to end with ISIS being thrown out of a major part of its conquests.
If played right, the Kurdish card represents a counterbalance to dictators like Assad, Islamic radicals like ISIS and the dreams of an Iranian empire. They could help negotiate the entire Middle East out of the current dangerous bend in its history with the promise of a new regional order that reflects its immense ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity.
But that requires leadership on a scale that only the United States could provide — and hasn’t.
July 5, 2014
Hakan Özoğlu, NY Times - When the collapse of the Ottoman Empire looked imminent during World War I, Western powers began to consider how to restructure the Middle East. As a product of this, and partly in response to President Woodrow Wilson’s principles of self-determination, Kurdish political activists proposed that the new map recognize a new nation: Kurdistan. This idea hinged on many variables, not least of which was the approval of the Western powers.
A consideration of Kurdish history, and their future, could illuminate why some proposals become nations and others remain a dream.
Many Kurds, including the Kurdish nationalist Emin Ali Bedirhan, rejected this map, saying that it compromised Kurdistan’s northern border. Emin Ali proposed an alternative, above, to include the Van region and extend the boundaries of Kurdistan to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Though they may have disagreed about the borders, Kurdish nationalists were united in favor of an autonomous Kurdistan. They remain so today, living in modern-day Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq – and scattered in a highly engaged global diaspora. These nationalists continue to advocate for the creation of a Kurdish state in case outside political powers once again restructure the Middle East political map.
In the decades since World War I, the idea of an independent Kurdistan (of any shape) has been a volatile issue. In Turkey alone, over 40,000 people lost their lives in the 20th century fighting for or against Kurdish independence. Discussing a Kurdish state, even in a hypothetical or historical context, may inspire many conspiracy theorists – understandably, as U.S. involvement in nation building in the Middle East has become more pronounced since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But should the sensitivity of the issue deter intellectually curious people from discussing the subject? I believe that much can be learned from the experience of Kurds in the Middle East. A consideration of their history, and their future, could illuminate why some proposals become nations and others remain a dream.
This discussion is especially relevant considering the recent developments in Iraq. Iraqi Kurds are closest to realizing their dream of an independent Kurdish state as the entire country moves to the brink of a civil war.
In appearance, the Iraqi Kurds have declared their loyalty to the unity of the federal state. Yet, it is a well-known secret that they pray for a chance of an independent state of their own, the boundaries of which are yet to be determined and surely promise to cause much controversy. If the Kurdish dream comes true, we might see how the original map of Kurdistan and the Iraqi version of it overlap.
Hakan Özoğlu, a professor of history at the University of Central Florida, is the author of "Kurdish Notables and the Ottoman State."
At least two soldiers and five civilians have also been killed in the fighting, the source said.
An earlier toll released on Saturday put the figure at 70 dead in the unprecedented police and army operation, with the military saying all were suspected members of the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).
Some 10,000 troops backed by tanks have been deployed in the southeast to try to rout young PKK supporters from urban areas, according to local media.
The operation, which has targeted the towns of Cizre and Silopi in the province of Sirnak as well as a neighbourhood in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region, began on Wednesday, according to the army.
Editor's Note: Iraq was created in 1920, in the postwar settlement that established the modern Middle East. From the start, it was an unstable amalgam of three former provinces of the Ottoman Empire: a predominantly Shiite one in the south, a Sunni-dominated one in the center, and a largely Kurdish one in the north. Though many national groups in Europe and the Middle East gained statehood, the Kurds were split among the new states of Iraq, Syria, and Turkey and the ancient one of Iran.
The Kurds endured successive waves of calamity, mostly at the hands of Saddam Hussein: the genocidal onslaught of Anfal, which killed as many as a hundred and eighty thousand people; chemical-weapons attacks; and an unrelenting campaign of torture and imprisonment that touched nearly every Kurdish family. In 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Army mounted a ferocious counterattack against rebels inside the country, killing more than a hundred and fifty thousand Shiites. Almost two million Kurds, fearing gas attacks, fled for Iran and Turkey. Under pressure from American jets and from the peshmerga, Saddam withdrew his forces from most of the Kurdish region in October, 1991. The refugees began to come home. Few people in the West realized it at the time, but the no-fly zone in northern Iraq marked the beginning of the Kurds’ road to self-rule; for twelve years, it gave them space to develop their institutions.
Iraqi Kurdistan (a Shiite majority), which contains about a quarter of that population, is a landlocked region surrounded almost entirely by neighbors—Turkey, Iran, and the government in Baghdad—that oppose its bid for statehood. Since 2003, when the U.S. destroyed the Iraqi state and began spending billions of dollars trying to build a new one, the Kurds have been their most steadfast ally. When American forces departed, in 2011, not a single U.S. soldier had lost his life in Kurdish territory. As the rest of Iraq imploded, only the Kurdish region realized the dream that President George W. Bush had set forth when he ordered the attack: it is pro-Western, largely democratic, largely secular, and economically prosperous.
Throughout the war in Iraq, the Kurds were the Americans’ most loyal partners. Around Washington, the understanding is clear: if the long-sought country of Kurdistan becomes real, America’s twelve-year project of nation building in Iraq will be sundered. Kurdish leaders acknowledge that the emergence of ISIS and the implosion of Syria are changing the region in unpredictable ways. But the Kurds’ history with the state of Iraq is one of persistent enmity and bloodshed, and they see little benefit in joining up with their old antagonists. “Iraq exists only in the minds of people in the White House,” Masrour Barzani, the Kurdish intelligence chief and Masoud’s son, told me. “We need our own laws, our own rules, our own country, and we are going to get them.” [Source]
Cizre (or Cizîr in Kurdish) is a town in the Kurdish region of Turkey, near the border with Syria and Iraq. Because of it’s proximity to Iraq and Syria, Cizre has been known to have a small presence of Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), who are outlawed in Turkey. Kurdish fighters from Cizre have been actively joining the Kurdish YPG to fight ISIS in Syria. It has been estimated that approximately 1 in 10 families have a member who is fighting with the PKK or YPG. In the wake of ISIS attacks, Cizre has received thousands of Yezidi and Syrian Kurdish refugees. [Source]
Diyarbakır (also known as Diyarbakir, or Amed in Kurdish) is one of the largest cities in the Kurdish region of Turkey. Diyarbakir is a major political, cultural and economic center for the Kurds in Turkey and has been home to many clashes between the Kurds and the Turkish government. The city was absorbed by the Ottoman Empire, and grew throughout the 20th century. In 1930, the city’s population was 30,000. By 1990, it has grown to 400,000. This was due, in part, to urbanization, but also due to the increase in violence by the PKK, which forced people to flee the countryside for the relative security of the city. [Source]
The Turkish government adamantly opposes a separate Kurdish state. Turkey has been alarmed by territorial gains by Kurds in Syria's civil war, which it fears could stir separatism among its own Kurdish minority. For the past three decades Ankara has been trying to end an insurgency by fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. A two-year ceasefire between Kurdish militants and Ankara fell apart in July, plunging the southeast back into a three-decades-old conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people. [Source]On Friday, the military also carried out air strikes on alleged PKK hideouts and weapons sites across the border in northern Iraq, where the outlawed group has its rear bases.
Images published by the Anatolia news agency show heavily armed soldiers backed by tanks going house-to-house in the towns and firing from street corners.
Army forces chief General Hulusi Akar visited Sirnak province on Saturday for a briefing by the local military command.
The Turkish government says the operation is needed to eliminate militants who were effectively taking over the towns by building barricades and digging trenches.
But Kurdish activists and politicians have accused the army of acting with impunity and pounding large parts of the towns to rubble.
In the eastern city of Van on Sunday, police fired rubber bullets and teargas to disperse around 1,000 demonstrators who gathered to condemn the military operations, the Dogan news agency reported.
- 'Attempt to unleash civil war' -
The army said that two schools that had been used by the PKK as hideouts had been rendered inoperable while a stash of arms had been seized in Silopi.
The education ministry recalled teachers from the area and schools were closed, as were health services due to a lack of doctors who have fled the conflict zone.
The operations mark a new escalation in five months of fighting between the army and the PKK since a two-and-a-half year truce collapsed in July.
Although analysts have called for peace talks, the authorities led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by the victory of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the November 1 election, have said Ankara must eradicate the PKK.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Sunday condemned what he said was "an attempt to unleash a civil war".
He warned that the military operations, criticised by some members of the political opposition and rights groups, will last until the towns targeted are completely "cleansed".
"We are faced with a barbaric organisation which is trying to exploit young people to affect their lives by installing these barricades," he told a gathering in Ankara of young people from the ruling AKP.He also promised financial help to residents forced to flee the conflict zone as well as businesses that have been hard hit.
But Turkey's Human Rights Association protested that the operations and "the systematic recourse to curfews, represent an unacceptable collective punishment".
The PKK launched an insurgency against the Turkish state in 1984, initially fighting for Kurdish independence although it is now pressing more for greater autonomy and rights for the country's largest ethnic minority.
The conflict has left tens of thousands of people dead.
- 70 killed in major anti-PKK operation in southeast Turkey: army AFP
- Turkey intensifies urban crackdown on Kurdish militants AFP
- Turkish forces kill 25 Kurdish militants in southeast operation AFP
- Turkey kills 8 Kurdish rebels in new curfew operations: army AFP
- Turkish military offensive kills 110 Kurdish militants in six days: security sources Reuters
- Turkish security forces impose curfews in several southeast towns in a bid to root out PKK rebels from urban centres AFP
- Clashes between Turkish forces, Kurdish rebels kill about 60
- Six Turkish soldiers, 20 Kurdish rebels killed in clashes
- Turkish forces killed 771 'PKK rebels' in past month: media
- 3 Kurdish militants killed in clashes with Turkish forces
- 16 Turkish soldiers killed in clashes
- Turkey PM: No talks on constitution with pro-Kurdish HDP Reuters
- Turkey's Kurds call for self-rule amid violence in southeast Reuters
- Syria anti-IS documentary maker 'assassinated' in Turkey AFP
- Iraq declares Ramadi liberated from IS, sweeps for bombs AFP