In response to the new offensive by the Turkish government, Kurds in the country's east are declaring their own regional autonomy. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) announced a "democratic autonomous region" in Dersim (Tunceli) province, and established checkpoints on the main road ithrough the region on Aug. 18. "We as guerrillas, under the right of self-defense for ourselves and our nation, declare democratic autonomy in Dersim," said a fighter in a video released by the group, showing their militants controlling the road and searching vehicles. Villages in Dogubeyazit district (Ağrı province) likewise issued an autonomy declaration. Local PKK militant Muhsin Kula said: "We will not recognize state institutions in this region. We hereby declared that we manage ourselves." Fighting between the PKK and government forces has left several dead this month, especially in Hakkari province, although accounts of the death toll widely vary. The government is denying PKK claims of 30 soldiers killed, claimg to have lost only one. Kurdish anger has been enflamed by reports that a female PKK fighter named Ekin Van was allegedly raped and killed before her naked body was dragged through the streets in Varto (Muş province). (Rudaw, Aug. 18) (See map)
Reports from the PKK-aligned Kurdistan National Congress indicate an internal war by the Turkish state against the Kurds in the country's east, approaching levels of violence not seen in 20 years. Several villages in Diyarbakir province are said to be under heavy shelling by the Turkish army. Many of these villages are reported to be currently burning, with many injured, and an unknown number killed. After hours of shelling, Turkish soldiers reportedly entered the village of Kocakoy, Lice-Hani district, putting homes to the torch—sometimes with families still inside, resulting in further loss of life. Troops then proceeded to force an evacuation of the villages. It is not said where the survivors fled to. A similar attack is reported from Şapatan (Turkish: Altınsu) village in Şemdinli district, Hakkari province, where the blaze has spread to surrounding forest areas. (KNC, KNC, Aug. 18)
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)
An unusual two-day ceasefire is about to take effect in three Syrian towns, brokered by regional enemies Turkey and Iran—the former a patron of the Syrian rebels and the later a sponsor of the Damascus regime. The two groups that have agreed to the truce are the Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction and Iran-backed Hezbollah. The truce was ostensibly organized to allow delivery of humanitarian supplies to rebel-held Zabadani (heavily damaged by regime barrel bombs), and government-held Fou'a and Kafraya. All three are in Idlib governorate, near the border of the Alawite heartland of Latakia, traditionally a bastion of support for the regime. (Syria Deeply, Haaretz, BBC News, Reuters)
From Gothamist, Aug. 11:
Cobble Hill Locals Mourn Death of
Beloved Oriental Pastry & Grocery Co-Owner
Cobble Hill shopkeepers and local residents are reeling from the sudden death of Muyassar Moustapha, who was fatally run over on Atlantic Avenue on Sunday night. Moustapha, 66, was a neighborhood fixture who for decades operated the Oriental Pastry & Grocery on Atlantic, just steps from where he was struck by a Mercedes driver after picking up ice cream at the Key Food across the street.
Kurdish-American pop singer Helly Luv travelled to northern Iraq where she donned a Peshmerga uniform and visited the frontline against ISIS to gyrate before the cameras in a video for a song dubbed "Revolution," offering encouragement to the Kurdish fighters: "Stand up, we are united; together we can survive it... Brothers and sisters we all come from one; Different religions we share the same blood." This has of course won her death threats from ISIS—we can imagine how upset the jihadists must be by a video combining Luv's unabashed sexuality with glorification of the anti-ISIS fighters. She also issued an appeal to President Obama to directly arm the Peshmerga—something he still hasn't done, although various European leaders have. "If we can give the Peshmerga the weapons, they can destroy the enemy. Even right now, they don't have strong weapons, but they're still winning," Helly said.
Nearly a quarter of a million people have died in Syria's war since March 2011, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The organiztion said Aug. 7 that the number of documented deaths had risen to 240,381 from 230,618 in June. Of these, 71,781 have been civilians and 11,964 children, the group found. 50,570 were soldiers or fighters allied with the regime. The toll for rebel fighters was put at 43,384 and foreign fighters (apparently counted separately) at 34,375. The 30,000 who have gone missing in Syria, including the 20,000 said to be held in regime prisons, were not counted in the toll. (The Telegraph, Aug. 8; Al Jazeera, Aug. 7)
As Turkey continues to bomb Kurdish anti-ISIS fighters in Iraq, violence is quickly spreading within Turkey itself. Two assailants—apparently both women—opened fire on the US consulate building in Istanbul on Aug. 10, fleeing the scene when police shot back. One of the assailants was captured in a building where she took shelter. She has been identified as a member or the armed-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Army-Front (DHKP-C). (Hurriyet Daily News) Elsewhere in Istanbul, an officer was killed in clashes after a car-bomb attack on a police station. In southeastern Sirnak province, four police officers were killed by a roadside bomb and a soldier died as gunmen fired on a military helicopter. (BBC News)