Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)
The fetish for hacking apostates to death on the Subcontinent has spread from the jihadis to the Hindu-fundamentalist competition... In another case of mounting caste violence in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a newly-wed couple was beaten in full public view in the town of Udumalpet on March 13—and the man then hacked to death. Times of India reports the attackers were the woman's relatives. The local police commissioner said her family was angered by the couple's marriage: "They married some eight months ago and the woman's family was unhappy. She is an upper Thevar Hindu caste and the man was a Dalit." (First Post, March 14) The Dalits are India's lowest caste, the so-called "untouchables."
A prominent veteran of the Tiananmen Square protests in China has dubbed US presidential hopeful Donald Trump a "privileged comeback king" and a threat to values of freedom that the United States represents. Taiwan-exiled Wuer Kaixi made his comments after Trump described the 1989 protest movement in Beijing as a "riot." Wuer Kaixi wrote on Facebook: "Speaking personally, after 27 years in exile from that 'riot'... I think I can speak for all fellow exiled and imprisoned Chinese in condemning Trump... I am not alone in appealing to the very same Americans who offered Chinese such as myself refuge when our own government deserted us to put aside partisan disputes and unite against Trump."
Vladimir Putin took the world by surprise with his March 14 announcement that he is ordering the Russian military to withdraw most of its forces from Syria—just as the new round of peace talks is opening in Geneva. Russia has deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its air base at Khmeimim (also rendered Hemeimeem) in coastal Latakia governorate, and they have since September flown near-daily combat sorties. Russia boasts that thanks to its air support, the Damascus regime has extended its control to 400 towns and villages over an area of 10,000 square kilometers. Moscow also emphasized that it will keep its base at Khmeimim, as well as another at the port of Tartus, just down the coast. (See map.) (AP, RT)
A car bomb exploded in a park in the central Kizilay district of Turkish capital Ankara March 13, killing 32 people and wounding more than 100. No group has yet claimed the attack, but officials told Reuters that initial findings suggested it was the work of the PKK or an affiliated group. (BBC News) The Feb. 17 bomb attack in Ankara that left 28 dead was claimed by the Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK)—which is a break-away faction of the PKK, not "affiliated" with them. That attack killed many civilians, but military buses were the target. Previous recent attacks in Turkey that, like this new one, actually targeted civilains were the work of ISIS. The PKK itself, while hardly fastidious about avoiding civilian deaths, has neither targeted civilians like ISIS nor been as reckless about "collateral damage" as the TAK. It is waging a campaign of guerilla warfare, not terrorism. The rush to blame the PKK in the new attack is political and unseemly.
Amid reports of jihadist chemical attacks against Kurds in both Syria and Iraq, Turkey is reviving the same accusations against Kurds that were used during the Armenian Genocide a century ago. The latest in a string of such statements, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a Feb. 27 speech in the (heavily Kurdish) eastern province of Bingol: "They are collaborating with Russia like the Armenian gangs used to do. They are opening a diplomatic mission in Moscow." This was a reference to the Kurdish-led People's Democratic Party (HDP), whose leader Selahattin Demirtaş had in fact just visited Moscow to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. It was also the most blatant and unaplogietic invocation of the Armenian Genocide yet by a Turkish leader. A report on this ominous statement in Al Monitor notes that supposed treasonous collaboration with Russia was precisely the charge made against the Armenians during World War I, justifying their mass deportation into the Syrian desert by Ottoman Turkish authorities—from which over a million never returned. The account also says that anti-Kurdish graffiti has started to appear on walls in Turkey's east, with the unsubtle phrase "Armenian bastards." This was seen alongside "We are with you, RTE"—a reference to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
An ISIS commander described by the Pentagon as the group's "minister of war" was announced to have been likely killed in a US air-strike in Syria on March 8. Abu Omar al-Shishani AKA "Omar the Chechen" ranked among the most-wanted militants under a US program that offered up to $5 million for information leading to his removal from the battlefield, Reuters reports. The conspiranoid website Levant Report responds to this development with the headline "ISIS Leader Omar al-Shishani Fought Under US Umbrella as Late as 2013." As is often the case with conspiranoid claims, there is a grain of truth here worthy of examination, but it hardly justifies the click-bait headline...
The Syria Ceasfire Monitor and Syrian Observatory on Human Rights report that the (partial) ceasefire that took effect Feb. 26 has in fact seen plenty of violations. Over 135, inlcuding many civilians, have been killed in regime and Russian air-strikes—and not only on ISIS and Nusra forces, which are officially excluded from the ceasefire, but in "truce areas" not controlled by these groups. But, as sources from the New York Times to The New Arab note, there has indeed been a significant lull in the fighting, which has allowed civil movements to re-emerge in the "free" areas. Residents have been once again taking to the streets under the slogan "The Revolution Continues," chanting and singing for the "fall of the regime," and waving the pre-Baathist flag adopted during the early, largely peaceful stages of the revolution—before the proliferation of armed Islamist factions with black jihadist banners. This has happened repeatedly over the past several days in Idlib, Darayya, Aleppo and elsewhere. Very inspiring video footage of the demonstrations has been posted to Facebook.