Over a year has passed since the might of NATO’s second largest military machine with its fighter jets overran what had one of the safest regions in a Syria gutted by years of civil war and bloodshed
“In the Name of the General Command of the Syrian Democratic Forces and on behalf of all our allies who fought with us in the same trenches, we announce today the destruction of the so-called Islamic State Organization and the end of its ground control in its last pocket in Baguoz region.”
… Likewise now, with ISIS/Daesh defeated, militarily at least, yet with Turkey’s threats to Rojava ongoing and U.S. confusion spiraling, an important question remains: what is the future for Afrin and its besieged inhabitants?
Over a year has passed since the might of NATO’s second largest military machine with its fighter jets overran what had one of the safest regions in a Syria gutted by years of civil war and bloodshed.
Since then, the results of this strategic strike against the largely Kurdish renaissance has only meant misery either for its remaining inhabitants or for those (estimated at over 100,000 people) living now in refugee camps in the nearby Shehba canton.
Despite subcontracting a lot of its dirty work to the various jihadist militias it funds and supports (the so-called TFSA) Turkey remains in control as it seeks to sharpen and extend its neo-Ottoman claws, maneuvering for position in a world torn ruthlessly apart by the Machiavellian scheming of a number of backward yet still-aspiring world powers, old and new.
As the ANF News Desk put it on April 24th:
“It’s no mystery that the AKP-MHP fascist forces want to advance until Kandil. General Chief of Staff Chief Hulusi Akar said that.
“Now, if this information is added to Tayyip Erdogan’s pledge to occupy Rojava, Şengal and Kirkuk, the real aim of the attacks launched on Afrin and Bradost becomes clearer.
It is clear that the AKP-MHP fascist plan is to occupy the entire Kurdistan territory, starting with Rojava and Başûr.
“Tayyip Erdogan’s administration is trying to replicate Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s Administration in the past.”
That said, despite the arrogance of the Turkish military machine and its masters in Ankara and the multiple assortment of well armed threats from the various groups currently occupying the region (to say nothing of the Russians, Iranians and Assad’s newly confident Syrian Arab Army on the sidelines) a guerrilla campaign has been ongoing in the Afrin region, mostly against the Turkish backed ‘Free Syrian Army’. This campaign – the ‘Wrath of Olives’ – has been carried out sporadically and with the intention of making the area ungovernable to the “mosaic of Turkish-backed civilian institutions and a diverse host of rebel factions prone to infighting” attempting to control the once independent region, as well as the Turkish military itself with its sophisticated NATO technology.
Afrin to be reclaimed?
…And not just Afrin. Turkey controls other parts of northern Syria close to the Kurds’ hearts.
On August 24, 2016, Turkey launched its Euphrates Shield Operation supposedly against the “Islamic State”, occupying the town of Al-Bab and the border town of Jarablus in northern Syria. This was to be followed by the invasion of Afrin on January 20, 2018.
Since then ongoing reports on a daily basis update us on the continued abuse of local residents by the Islamist “gangs’ of the Turkish FSA. Reports also identify large numbers of “gang members” in Idlib being settled in Afrin by the Turkish state. To say nothing of ISIS members who have allegedly been transported to Afrin from Idlib, Hama and northern rural areas of Latakia, all this (see https://anfenglishmobile.com/rojava-northern-syria) along with an ongoing campaign of kidnapping, abduction, confiscation of homes and property, violence and torture…
At the end of February this year with the impending defeat of ISIS in the Baghuz area imminent, the SDF turned their attention to Afrin… At the end of March SDF Commander Mazloum Kobane (on March 28) stated in an interview with the Kurdish Sterk TV:
“We are preparing and making arrangements in order to liberate Afrin … Because this is a military matter, everyone should know that when the time is suitable, the liberation phase will begin…
“Afrin is not only a Kurdish area, but a Syrian area … It’s within the SDF’s mission to protect all Syrian territory…”
Likewise on March 28, the Syrian Democratic Council (MSD) Spokesperson Emced Osman pointed out that there was “no difference between ISIS gangs and the gangs in Afrin, Bab, Jarablus and Azaz.”
“THE TRUE DANGER ARE THE POWERS THAT SUPPORT ISIS”
“The International powers should put forth a clear stand against the presence of these gangs in the region. The true danger is the powers that support ISIS and other gang groups under different names. If countries like Turkey continue to support the gangs, the possibility will remain that the gangs will re-emerge. Turkey is in control in Jarablus, Afrin and Idlib. In Afrin, there is a genocide in progress for the whole world to see. The Turkish state is engaged in openly invasionist policies in the region but unfortunately no global power has put forth any harsh stance against this at all.”
“TURKEY’S PRESENCE IS MORE DANGEROUS THAN ISIS”
Emced Osman also analysed Turkish threats against Northern and Eastern Syria (Rojava) saying:
“Attacks and threats by the invading Turkish state is a threat for Northern and Eastern Syria, but they are also a threat for the whole world. Just as ISIS threatened all countries in various ways, Turkey is threatening all with the policies they implement. Turkey’s threats are more dangerous than ISIS. Their goal is to invade the Northern and Eastern Syria region and invade all of the Middle East. To stop that, international powers should support the defense of Northern and Eastern Syria.”
A point echoed by Abdul Rasool Syed in his recent analysis of Turkey’s plans:
“The Treaty of Lausanne is due to expire in 2023. This has triggered a debate on how Turkey sees the opportunity and how it would choose to act. Will it seek to resurrect the Ottoman Empire or something resembling it in Europe? Will the geopolitical maps be redrawn? Will Turkey project hard power leading to regional dominance?
“President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s statement on the eve of the centennial anniversary of the Turkish Republic is significant. He announced that Turkey will shape the future of the entire region when it reaches its goals for 2023. Turkey, he said, was on the threshold of new victories and successes.”
Early in April the PYD in its statement “We will liberate Afrin” said:
“After a minute’s silence in memory of the martyrs of freedom Ayse Hiso co-chair of the PYD evaluated political developments in Kurdistan and Turkey.
“Hiso said that the Turkish state had built its policy on hostility towards the Kurds, committed genocidal operations against the HDP and the Kurds in Northern Kurdistan while at the same time resorting to all kinds of provocation and manipulation in order to eliminate the democratic, egalitarian and just system built by the Kurds in Rojava.
“The Kurdish forces retreated to prevent the genocide and the murder of more civilians in Afrin after resisting for 58 days”, Hiso recalled, adding that the Turkish state had occupied Afrin with the support of ISIS mercenaries.
“Noting that retreat is a battle tactic, Hiso said: “But Afrin was never left in the hands of the fascism of Erdoğan. Afrin is ours and we will take it back from the invaders at any cost.” (April 8th)
Whether, despite having the will, the SDF and its allies have the capacity and Turkey is soon to be expelled from the Afrin region in a manner similar to how they took it, remains to be seen.
However SouthFront (analysis and intelligence on international relations issues) points out:
“However, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and Russian forces are now deployed in these positions. All the supply routes to these positions are also under the direct control of the Damascus government.
“Due to this situation, the SDF will need an agreement with Damascus in order to carry out any attack in the area. An agreement that appears to be impossible now, as the Kurdish dominated group is not willing to compromise on any matter.”
Meanwhile across the border, Turkey’s threats ongoing
Meanwhile having already launched its two invasions into Syrian Kurdish territory (Operation Euphrates and the recent assault on Afrin given the green light by the Russians) daily reports continue to surface of Turkey’s delayed invasion plans to remove the “terrorist threat” and, of course, its potential to affect the struggle of the Kurds in south-east Turkey (Northern Kurdistan) which continues to simmer since the Turkish military assault following the collapse of the ‘Solution Process’ (peace talks) in 2015.
In December 2018, Turkish officials finally announced that Ankara was in preparations for a third offensive in northern Syria, this time east of the Euphrates.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also made repeated threats to attack the Syrian autonomous regions both in the northwestern Arab city of Manbij and east of the Euphrates River, massing his army on the borders with Rojava; his most recent threats being cynically made in the run up to the recent local elections in Turkey.
The Turkish regime press constantly echoes the hardline statements of the president in his vote-catching (now vote losing) bellicose statements…
In February Andalou said:
“Turkey will end the threat from the YPG/PKK terror group in Syria’s Manbij region and east of the Euphrates when the time comes, the country’s defense minister said late Wednesday.
“Our armed forces prepared well and are continuing to prepare [to hit terror targets in Manbij and east of Euphrates]. Preparations have been made. In the coming period, when the time comes, this YPG threat will be terminated by necessary operations…”
Hulusi Akar (Turkish Minister of Defence and a former four-star Turkish Armed Forces general):
“What we do is provide security for our people and borders. We are not eyeing any country’s territory. We respect Syria and Iraq’s territorial and political integrity… it is time to hit terror targets in Manbij and east of the Euphrates following two successful anti-terror operations since 2016 in northwestern Syria — operation Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield…”
…an operations which to Turkey’s perception has “liberated the region, including Al-Bab, Afrin and Azaz, from YPG/PKK and Daesh terrorists, making it possible for Syrians who fled violence there to return home.”
The Kurds obviously disagree with this Orwellian style analysis. So does, at least some, of the American administration, Turkey’s major ally internationally, as a recent Der Spiegel article pointed out
“Der Spiegel reporter Christoph Sydow wrote the article which said most of the Kurdish population in Afrin migrated after the Turkish state invaded the city. The article stressed that the Kurds have not given up on their wish to return to their city and mentioned the analyses on Afrin former US Special Envoy to the International Coalition Against ISIS Brett McGurk wrote for the journal Foreign Affairs.
“In an article titled “Hard truths in Syria” McGurk wrote that the attacks against Afrin do not stem from Turkey’s concern for their security but a desire by Erdogan to extend territory. Der Spiegel continued to say, ‘McGurk’s statements show a high ranking US official confirming the picture Kurds and international human rights organizations have painted regarding Afrin for a long time.’” (ANF)
Also in February Anadalou, the Turkish Press Agency, reported:
“Turkey’s president said Thursday that to protect Syria’s territorial integrity, the terrorist PYD/YPG must be swept away from areas where it persists near the Turkish border.
“‘Syria’s territorial integrity will not be ensured unless the PYD/YPG terror group is cleared away from Manbij, [and] east of the Euphrates,’ Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, ahead of their trilateral meeting with their Iranian counterpart.
“Erdogan also said Turkey welcomes Russia’s positive attitude towards a proposed safe zone in northern Syria, adding that Turkey also supports the idea as long as it serves to address Turkey’s national security concerns.
“‘It is very important that the cooperation which took place regarding the use of airspace in Idlib also takes place in Afrin and the area [liberated by] Operation Euphrates Shield — one of the previous counter-terror operations –,’ Erdogan added.”
However: Hawar news (ANHA) challenges this perception in an interview with Marwa Derrei, joint president of Kobani canton’s council, who reminded us that the Turkish state’s hostile policy towards the Kurdish people is not new, saying that it “aims to apply the Ottoman policy to the people of the area and expand its occupation to the neighboring countries.”
“Marwa noted that since the beginning of the Rojava Revolution, the Turkish state has been seeking to destabilize security and stability, and hit the peoples’ fraternity fabric in the region in various ways, notably by its support for Daesh mercenaries and sending them to the area.”
Marwa Derrei: “The Turkish state’s threats on the north and east of Syria will not undermine our will and determination, but will further increase our determination to implement the democratic nation’s project and the co-existence among all components.”
The Daily Sabah (launched on 24 February 2014)
The Daily Sabah, another pro-government Turkish daily, also reaffirmed the Turkish intent to clear the Kurdish forces (and civilians?) from this part of Syria; on 30 March, quoting Turkish President and Chairman of the ruling Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan:
“Turkey will solve the Syria issue on the field as the first thing after the March 31 local elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Saturday.
“Speaking at an election rally in Istanbul’s Kağıthane district, Erdoğan said Turkey will not allow a “terror corridor” to be formed along the country’s southern borders.
“The president noted that Turkey will take direct action to solve the matter, rather than just sit at the table and address the issue through talks.
“While the country liberated northwestern Syrian territories from Daesh terrorism, it also prevented the YPG from establishing a de-facto autonomous region in Syria by connecting the northwestern Afrin district to the so-called Kobani and Jazeera cantons in the northeast, which Ankara describes as a “terror corridor” posing a grave security threat to its national security.”
“Terror corridor” – or part of a historical Kurdistan, that the regional powers prefer to deny the existence of?
On April 4th it also posted:
“Turkish army completes preparations for military operation east of Euphrates”
“The Turkish military completed preparations for a cross border operation to the region east of the Euphrates River to clear PKK-affiliated terrorists, which have been posing a national security threat for Ankara, out of northern Syria.
“We are waiting for instructions of the government for the military operation. Opening a forward operating base was part of these preparations,” a military source said Thursday, speaking under condition of anonymity.
“Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) last week opened a forward operating base in southeastern Şanlıurfa province near the Syrian border with the attendance of Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and top military command. The base is planning to be used as the main command center in case of an operation to the east of Euphrates.
“The source also indicated that the Manbij road map has been sluggish and slower than initially planned due to the indifferent attitude of the U.S., adding that bilateral talks are ongoing to expedite the process.”
As for U.S. confusion…
…it appears that the US presence continues to offer a threat to Turkey’s schemes to extend its influence further into Syria. On April 3 last, the US Department of State issued a statement in Washington DC to that effect:
“Office of the Spokesperson, Washington, DC, April 3, 2019
The below is attributable to Deputy Spokesperson Robert Palladino:
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met today with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during the NATO Ministerial. Secretary Pompeo expressed support for ongoing negotiations regarding northeast Syria, while warning of the potentially devastating consequences of unilateral Turkish military action in the region…”
While all this goes on “Tsar, Sultan and Ayatollah” continue to scheme and plot the carve up of the region with a cynicism and ruthlessness equal to that of the original colonisers in the early 20th century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Those who arguably created the original mess that innocent people, their children and families, have continued to pay the price, right up to the present day….
Meaning none of this ‘diplomacy’ matters a whit to the simple human beings in any of these fragmented states who are daily tormented and forced to endure the ravages of occupation (or civil war, or “terrorism” or jihad) as ANF, the Kurdish Press Agency continues to point out on a daily basis.
Finally, Syria’s threats..?
As a footnote to this update, this now-almost-new (and mostly devastated) Syria of Bashar al-Assad continues to demand the return of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria (Rêveberiya Xweser a Bakur û Rojhilatê Sûriyeyê) cantons to Damascus control, no matter by whatever means, recently threatening once again to take them back militarily, in particular since talks between the Kurds and Damascus reached an impasse in what could be described as their conflicting visions of a future Syria…with the Autonomous Administration seeking to preserve many of the gains of its 7 year revolution as well as the sacrifices it made in its fight against Daesh.
“We seek a country where all sides, groups, and factions can meet and agree on a solution for Syria,” the spokesperson for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), Nuri Mahmoud said in an interview with Kurdistan 24 on Sunday 21 April, in response to recent threats from the Assad regime, with or without its Russian and Iranian allies:
“We don’t believe that the [Syrian] regime has the ability to fight us, but it insists on carrying on with such threats all the time…”
Likewise Nuri Mahmoud was equally dismissive of Russia’s role in the unfolding of Syria’s future:
“Russian policy [in Syria] has turned out to be very superficial. Regarding Syria, it has adopted short-term goals and has agreed with Turkey to turn the Syrian crisis into a business,” he claimed…. “As such, we view Russia’s influence and position in Syria as very weak. Threats Russia has made outside Syria have no influence, even on the Syrian regime.”…“The Russian military is present in Syria but it has no influence on Damascus. Mind you, Damascus’ control is not that significant: There is Al-Qaeda in Idlib, and there is the Turkish occupation in the northwest as well,” he added. “Although Russia is a Guarantor State and it claims to have been officially invited by the Syrian regime, the regime has been silent towards the occupation in Idlib, Afrin, al-Bab, Jarabulus and Azaz.”
So what next in Afrin..?
The chaos that occupies the region is no less the result of those with power endlessly seeking to expand their influence and benefit from their position than it is a troubled history that has seen peoples’ legitimate rights silenced on an ongoing basis.
So much so that we have come to assume this almost permanent state of violence and war to be the norm and we have an enormous arms industry to guarantee this.
With this in mind, and wondering what the future holds for Afrin, Nezîfe Xelo, the co-chair of the Manbij Democratic Civil Administration Executive Council, said at the end of March:
“The whole world must break the silence and oppose the rights violations carried out by the occupying Turkish forces. The people will not forget the threatening dictator Erdoğan, who occupied Afrin and today threatens to occupy Manbij.”
In the end..?
…what the outcome will be no one can tell except for this:
…if there is a limit to human misery it must have been reached by now in this tormented part of the world that has endured, war, colonisation, occupation, mass deportation, genocide, civil war, chemical attacks, and more.
And if this limit had a voice in the midst of the awful silence that surrounds all this intrigue and vicious blood-letting in the name of 21st century politics, then that voice has to be the one demanding peace – peace with justice – as the immediate priority…
Peace – without conditions.
And if this does not happen soon then those with the ability to affect this outcome need to go hang their heads in shame… As well as being consigned there by people’s (no longer silenced) demands that all beings be allowed to live in peace and with all the resources they need to live fully…
As a people, it is time we woke up and demanded better from our ‘rulers’, especially those settled safely in their parliaments in the developed states with their cynical and usually hypocritical commitment to “business as usual”.
“The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” Albert Einstein apparently said once.
…Returning us to the earlier SDF – (with its estimated 60,000 armed fighters) – statement, announced on Saturday (March 23), on the military defeat of ISIS and at least, an end to Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate (declared across large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014) – with the question remaining a priority as to what happens next for Afrin…
The Syrian Democratic Forces
The General Military Council of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also announced:
“The meeting considered that the liberation of Afrin and the return of its original inhabitants to their homes and the stopping of the processes of demographic change [among] their priorities in the next stage…
“The Turkish state is the actual and direct occupation of the Syrian territories in Afrin, al-Bab, Jarablus and Idlib. The meeting affirmed its desire to solve problems with the Turkish state through dialogue and mutual respect.
“At the same time, we stressed the full readiness to protect our areas in the event of any aggression and welcome the establishment of the buffer zone under international supervision in order to establish security and peace on our northern border…”
So, possible or not, the work of rebuilding this devastated part of the Middle East becomes more urgent each day that passes.
So it might be time now, with the guns starting to be silenced, for the world to explore the lives of the people who haves survived in this tormented region, like the Hesens in Kobane and their work of building a library there – the Rodî û Perwîn Library for the living, in recognition of all their dead:
“During this time, Rodi returned to Kobanê and married his lover Perwin Hemo whom he had loved for 7 years. They were not even married 20 days when a massacre occurred on 25th of June 2015 and the 20-day-old bride and groom Rodi and Perwin were martyred in this massacre….
My mother was martyred. My sister Gulistan Hesen was martyred. My elder brother Ehmed Hesen and his wife Rihane Hemo were martyred and their six children were orphaned. My uncle Mistefa Hemo, two of my cousins Osman and Ehmed and their mother Gule Evdi. Two of my sisters Cihan and Berivan were also there during this massacre but they were able to hide themselves. They witnessed how their mother, sisters and brothers were slaughtered by barbarians. After this last incident I returned from Amed and buried my family members. I witnessed the psychological state of my sisters Cihan and Berivan; that they could not go back to their house now … covered in blood and live there. Because before their marriage, Rodi and Perwin were planning to build a library in their home after their marriage and so that my mother’s house would not be closed to guests, I decided to make the bride and groom’s house, as well as my mother’s house, into a library. I made plans for the establishment of the library for about a year, but Cihan and Berivan could not come. When I opened the library on 9 May, 2016, they did come to the opening of the library and they were there. We dedicated the library to our bride and groom and we named it the “Rodi and Rerwin library”. (Ednan Osman Hesen from Kobane)
As for the political, strategic and ‘spiritual’ cynicism of the world powers… surely it is time for us to assert, in as many ways as we can, that there is an alternative.
That the democratic project has not arrived at its destination with the middle-class “end of history”.
And that the seeds of a qualitatively superior future are being nurtured in the work of rebuilding a society of equals… a truly human society freed of the current, glaring and obscene contradictions…
Despite all the dangers that now surround it on all sides, similar to the violence that swallowed Afrin over a year ago and still threatens the rest of the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria / Rojava, right as we speak…
Part of this alternative has already been described in practical terms by the SDF Press Office:
“The main factor in the success of the Syrian democratic forces in its war against terrorism was its adoption of the democratic approach, the principles of the democratic nation, the freedom of women, the principles of coexistence and brotherhood of peoples, which brought together Kurd, Arab, Syriac, Assyrian, Turkoman, Chechen, Circassian and international fighters under the Syrian democratic forces flag.”
And while the rest of the world may sleep, this dream of a new and radical democracy waits for all our voices to be raised demanding its presence, its protection, its welcome, its right to exist and its realisation, as a part of the unfolding of whatever human history we might have left in this catastrophic era?
Image: Una niña sirio-kurda patina en la calle en el enclave sirio de Afrin, en el norte, que las fuerzas respaldadas por Ankara capturaron de los combatientes kurdos en los últimos meses. SAMEER AL-DOUMY AFP
Kobanê: landscapes after the battle