Tag Archives: Kobane

Kobane massacre shows that double-standards to Syrian Kurdish forces must end

As the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces were celebrating rapid gains against the Islamic State (IS) in the strategically important border town of Tel Abyad and then Ayn Issa, just 50 km from the self-declared IS capital of Raqqa, IS committed one of their worst massacres to date in Kobane.

Disguised as YPG and Free Syrian Army forces, IS units managed to infiltrate the town initiating a number of deadly suicide attacks and then brutally killing at least 146 civilians in a vicious house-to-house hunt. IS fighters managed to occupy a number of buildings and approximately 50 civilians are still held as hostages.

IS intention was never to occupy the town but send out a stark reminder after its recent losses of the damage that it could inflict at a moment’s notice. For the war-ravaged town of Kobane, any sense of normality may never return.

Kobane is a symbol of the Kurdish resistance against IS and one of the few success stories of the US-led coalition that provided pivotal air support and was finally liberated in January after 4 months of intense fighting.

YPG have proved one of the most capable fighting forces against IS but yet find themselves in the tough position where the US has hesitated to directly arm and support and who Turkey merely label as terrorists.

And it is this “terrorist” tag that is becoming an outdated and unfair noose on the Syrian Kurdish population. Turkey has insisted many times that for them both PKK affiliated YPG and IS are the same.

How can the actions of the YPG, which has been instrumental in driving back IS, ever be compared with the mass slaughter of innocent civilians?

More importantly, demarcating a group as terrorists is one thing but a population is another. The Syrian Kurds deserve the support of Turkey and the West. They deserve the right to defend their own lands from massacres such as that in Kobane.

Turkey, other regional powers and US have supported so-called moderate groups within the FSA for years, with US providing arms and training even when the notion of moderates in rebel ranks was as grey or non-existent as ever.

Jaish al-Fatah or the Army of Conquest, the new powerful alliance supported by Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which has made rapid gains in Idlib province in recent months, is augmented by a loose alliance with al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra. It is all the more ironic that with the immense brutality of the Syrian war, that definition of moderates and Jihadists has become a relative term.

Yet the Syrian Kurdish gains in recent weeks were quickly met with allegations of ethnic cleansing and land-grabbing to create a new Kurdish state. Syrian Kurdish priority is defense of their lands and people than the lofty dreams of a new state that is been propagated to paint the Syrian Kurdish forces as separatists who are only keen on pursuing their own interests.

There can be no great boost to the Kurdish peace process in Turkey than more Turkish support of the Syrian Kurds. The Kurds form a large part of the Turkish state and support of their brethren across the border can only enhance trust and unity in Turkey.

Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani strongly denounced the attacks on Kobane and urged the US-led coalition to provide greater support to YPG fighters against IS. Barzani stated willingness of the Kurdistan Region to support and aid the Kurds in Kobane and Rojava.

No regional power can stay idle to a human massacre on their door step and international powers must do more to allow the people to defend themselves.

As the recent chilling terrorist attacks in Tunisia on holiday makers, a bomb blast at a Shite –affiliated mosque in Kuwait and an explosion in a chemical factor in France have shown, the battle is far from one confided to Syria and Iraq.

The massacres such that in Kobane are not in a remote far away land, it could easily be on your doorstep.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the battle for Kobane and Peshmerga deployment eroded borders between Kurds

Barely a few weeks ago, Kobane was surrounded on three sides by heavily armed Islamic State (IS) forces and in danger of imminent collapse. Now, Kobane has propelled itself as the symbol of the international battle against IS but more importantly it has placed the Syrian Kurds under great international spotlight.

Few would have imagined that this small dusty town would have brought together in one way or another, Kurds in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, Free Syrian Army (FSA), Turkey, the US, European Union, Saudi Arabia and various coalition partners.

Events on the ground as well as the political dynamic have transformed to the extent John Allen, the retired US general in charge of overseeing the US campaign against IS, stated that the town is no longer in danger of fallen into IS hands.

This week in a highly symbolic move, 150 Iraqi Peshmerga forces crossed the Turkish border to help in the defense of the town. 150 troops is an important but nevertheless symbolic figure, however the heavy weaponry that accompanies them add to their considerable clout.

Of greater significance is the boost in morale and optimism that Kobane and the local Kurdish population have received with this reinforcement. The journey of these Peshmerga, to rapturous welcome of Turkish Kurds, was also symbolic as it crossed three parts of Kurdistan.

With Kurds in Iraq, Turkey and Syria cheering equally resolutely, the deployment of the Peshmerga forces greatly enhanced Kurdish unity. The deployment also opens a new channel that will not remain closed, if the situation dictates the path is clear for further Peshmerga reinforcements to arrive.

Just weeks ago, Kobane was confounded to a local problem. It is now cross-border Kurdish problem as well as a firm strategic goal of the coalition forces.

Kobane has not been without its ironies. Turkey has faced a backlash over its stance on Kobane. Although it has welcomed Iraqi Kurdish and FSA forces, at the same time it has loathed any support of the People Defense Unit (YPG) forces for their sympathies to the PKK.

In parallel with Peshmerga reinforcements, FSA forces recently entered to support Kobane, a key demand from Turkey to try and give the Kobane battle a more Syrian and anti-Assad feel, than a united Kurdish campaign based on nationalism. Although it won’t transform the historically cautious relations between FSA battalions and Kurdish forces overnight, this latest cooperation may pave the way for a joining of forces to oust Assad once the IS headache is resolved (as Ankara has long demanded)

This week, Turkish Prime Minister, Ahem Davutoglu hit back at growing critics, stating his refusal to be part of a ‘game’ for a few weeks to satisfy American or European opinion.

The battle for Kobane has marked the brave resistance of Syrian Kurdish forces but it has also placed into clear context the strength of IS. On Wednesday alone, there were 10 US led air strikes against IS positions in Kobane with dozens more since the allied campaign intensified in recent weeks.

Yet, even with other front lines in Iraq and other parts of Syria, and an avalanche of air strikes, IS has become weakened but largely prevailed. Literally hundreds of IS armored vehicles and positions have been destroyed – this only shows how much of a force and a problem that IS had become.

It developed tremendous strength over the past 2 years, especially since its conquests in Iraq, but the West ignored this stark reality and reacted too late. Indeed for the YPG, bloody battles with IS over the past year or so, often with little support and recognition, is not new.

Now a vicious war rages against IS in Syria and Iraq. What makes all this a remarkable irony, is that this is only a war within a war. A greater Syrian civil war still rages with over 200,000 killed and with Bashar al-Assad firmly in power, regardless of how the battle against IS now dominates the headlines.

It was the Syrian civil war, security vacuums and lack of a clear Western policy that created IS. Now, with much more investment, intense fighting and a great deal of sacrifice, IS will be defeated but what then for Syria and the other fronts of war?

Defeating IS is one thing, letting them re-spawn is another matter entirely that the West cannot overlook.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel finally admitted a well-known reality, that the campaign against IS is benefitting Assad even if their long-term target remains his removal from power.

Syrian and IS need a comprehensive solution. Above all, both regional and global powers now need to look at the new realities of the war in Syria. The situation can never return to any pre-civil war era. With every sacrifice and valiant resistance, the Syrian Kurds consolidate their hard fought and deserved autonomy. Kobane could well serve as the iconic bridge that brought all of great Kurdistan together both now and the future.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

How the struggle for Kobane transformed the regional dynamic

“I don’t understand why Kobane is so strategic for the US, there are no civilians left there”, bemoanedthe disillusionedTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, after the US conducted multiple aidrops of military and medical supplies to the Syrian Kurdish YPG forces.

Whilst Turkey has downplayed the significance of the small town, Kobane has become a symbol of the international fight against the Islamic State (IS), placing the credibility of the coalition on the line.

At the same time the fight for Kobane is not just contained to a local struggle against IS militants but the battle reverberates politically and strategically across the region.

Kobane has already had a profound effect on the regional dynamic. Turkey has resisted international pressure to intervene in Kobane or allow Kurdish volunteers from Turkey to enter, labelling the Democratic Union Party (PYD) as a “terrorist organisation” that it sees as no different to the PKK or indeed the IS.

Turkey has repeated this rhetoric whilst conversely US military assistance and communication channels to the Syrian Kurds have rapidly increased.

US measures have contradictedthe Turkish line, with the US clearly seeing the Syrian Kurds as key allies in the battle against IS and hardly as a terrorist force.

At the same time, Turkey has tried to strike agreement with the Kurds to allow Free Syrian Army (FSA) to enter Kobane, even as it opposed the hundreds of Kurdish volunteers from joining the fight. Aligning the FSA in a more official capacity in Kobane, would dilute the sense of Kurdish nationalist struggle for Kobane and Rojava and also soften the rising stock of the PKK.

Turkey has worked hard to pressure the PYD to join the FSA to turn the battle as a Syrian national struggle with the wider goal of ousting Bashar al-Assad. Ironically, a Kurdish dominated win in Kobane, will only strengthen Kurdish nationalism, the standing of the PKK and Kurdish autonomy, not to mention the pivotal role of the Syrian Kurds in the battle against IS across Syria. This is the same fate that Ankara has tried to avoid.

As the US has grown closer to the Syrian Kurds, Ankara, in danger of been isolated underintense international spotlight, allowed Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces a passage through Turkey to support Kobane.

This week the Kurdistanregional parliament approved the deployment of up to 200 fighters. These fighters will provide key support to strained YPG forces but is also a symbolic move by the Kurdistan leadership to bolster cross-border Kurdish unity. For Turkey, having FSA and Peshmerga forces on the ground, alleviates it from an embarrassing situation of providing de-facto assistance to the Syrian Kurdish forces, even as they are labelled as a terrorist organisation and ultimately as anenemy.

A key move on the back of the decision to deploy Peshmergafighters this week was the unity agreement negotiated in days of talks in Dohuk between the PYD and rival Syrian Kurdish factions. The split between pro-PKK and pro-KRG Kurdish parties in Syria had severely handicapped the Kurdish struggle and their newfound autonomy.

Kurdistan president Massoud Barzani hailed the agreement, “This agreement brings us together and itself is a significant answer to enemies who did not intend the Kurds to be united.” While PYD leader, Salih Muslim, stated that “All Kurdish people are under attack, so they should be united.”

Previous unity agreements have quickly broken down and if it sticks this time around, it will serve as a major boost for the Syrian Kurdish cantons and perhaps in the way Ankara approaches the region.

Such is the intense international focus on Kobane and the symbol of the fight against IS that even the Syrian government has been quick to stake their part in the struggle, alleging military and logistical support to Kurds in Kobane.

Whoever thought that a small dusty town, unknown to much of the wider world, would bring together the Syrian Kurds, Iraqi Kurds, Turkey, IS, FSA, Assad, the US, Saudi Arabia and numerous other international and regional players?

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: OpenDemoracy, eKurd.net

How Kobane placed a dark cloud on the peace process in Turkey

Out-gunned, out-numbered and lacking firepower, it was the tenacity and willpower of the Syrian Kurdish forces that prevented an overrun of the Kurdish town of Kobane on the Turkish border and a likely massacre under the hands of the Islamic State (IS).

As the town of Kobane faced a dire threat under the hands of IS, the situation was made more difficult to stomach for the Kurds on both sides of the border, with the presence of Turkish troops and their heavy armory on the border.

The reluctance of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to intervene in Kobane, even as he previously vowed to prevent the fall of Kobane, puzzled and drew widespread anger amongst the highly suspicious Kurds in Turkey.

Moreover, widespread protests cross Turkey highlight that it isn’t just Kobane that is at risk of falling, it also the tentative peace process that only recent brought a halt to almost 3 decades of conflict.

Ultimately for Turkey, coming to the aid of the YPG forces and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is affiliated with the PKK, would be akin to bailing out and fighting alongside the PKK.

Turkey continues to see Kobane as a PKK versus IS battle and not a Jihadist battle against ordinary Kurds. It simply does not differentiate between PKK or IS who they deem on equal footing.

That stance not only demonstrates the fragile nature of the peace process and Kurdish-Turkish relations, but that the climate for real peace amidst strong mistrust and animosity is lacking.

Turkey has set a number of preconditions before joining the fight against IS, which in many ways is understandable, including the need for a long-term plan in Syria if and when IS can be defeated and a no-fly zone, but this cannot be at the expense of ignoring a perilous humanitarian plight on your door step and to station a huge force on the border, with the bloodshed in clear sight, and then do nothing only adds to the fire.

Either way, as the Kurds have shown, they are more than capable of defeating IS if their fighters are allowed access and weapons at the border.

Turkey could have significantly enhanced its hand with the Kurds in Turkey if it had seen the battle against the Kurds in Syria as a fight against the partners of their nation.

On the contrary, it has long seen the autonomous Syrian Kurdish enclaves as a threat and has often accused the PYD of colluding with the Bashar al-Assad regime, as the Kurds refused to join the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

Whatever the political stance, religious affiliation or nationality when it comes to averting a humanitarian catastrophe differences must be put aside.

The US and Western powers supported the Kurds in Iraq at their time of need including providing crucial arms, and support for the Syrian Kurds, as an effective force in the war on IS, should be no different.

Above all, it would be a real tragedy if the peace process ended in Turkey after the painstaking journey to reach to this elusive juncture.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe
Other Publication Sources: Various Misc

After Iraq, West is obliged to support Syrian Kurds at the hands of IS

The rapid and barbaric advance of the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq gripped the world’s attention, leading to eventual Western intervention and arming of the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, the IS problem has long festered untouched in Syria.

The Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces have been locked in bloody battles with IS militants since 2013 with little support. The fierce battle for Kobane in the Kurdish region of Syria has been raging for several months, but armed with heavy weaponry taking from their spoils in Iraq and regrouping for a major new assault, Syria is on the cusp of yet another humanitarian crisis at the hands of IS.

While the Syrian Kurdish battle against IS has received far less attention and backing than the Kurdish forces repelling IS forces in Iraq, the struggle against IS in that part of the world is just as important and strategic as the ones in Iraq. The Syrian Kurdish struggle against IS not a separate equation but in all reality one and the same.

Thousands of desperate Syrian Kurds fled dozens of villages around Kobane as Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, showing initial hesitance, finally authorized the opening of the border as grateful civilians flooded into the Turkish town of Dikmetas.

“IS fighters have seized at least 21 villages around Kobane,” confirmed Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, with reports that IS had already cut off water and electricity supplies to the city.

Under a new strategy to combat IS, US President Barack Obama finally agreed to hit IS strongholds in Syria and as such there is no better place to start than preventing a humanitarian catastrophe in Kobane.

The same YPG forces helped in the fight back against IS forces in Iraq and in turn they must now be helped by Western and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

With common affiliations to the PKK blighting perception, YPG has been viewed with much suspicion and mistrust, particularly by Turkey who has failed to recognize the bigger picture at times. Reservations from nationalists will lead to a much deeper problem for Turkey with a potent IS across its long porous borders.

Recently, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed that Turkey was considering plans for a buffer zone on its border with Iraq and Syria. Although this is a much welcome move, such a buffer zone was needed a long-time ago.

The West saw that Peshmerga forces in Iraq were its natural partners and hand in the push back of IS and provided the lightly armed Peshmerga in comparison with IS much needed weaponry.

Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani urged Western support against IS in Kobane amidst “barbaric and terrorist acts”. Barzani  stated, “I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobane,” while adding that “IS terrorists … must be hit and destroyed wherever they are.”

In Syria, the same situation as Iraq must somehow be replicated as US tries to bolster moderate Syrian opposition forces. Much in the same way as the Iraqi Kurdish forces have been so vital in pushing back IS, the Syrian Kurdish forces ultimately hold significant sway to any defeat of IS.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about the IS gains and advance around Kobane.

The US needs partners it can trust and Syrian Kurds are willing allies. This has proved a difficult reality with deep reservations from Turkey and ties to the PKK, but the situation on the ground needs decisive action and decision making and further US and Western dithering will not only see further atrocities at the hands of IS but the US plan again to defeat IS greatly weakened.

First Published On: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc