Greater Middle East
The US responded this week to the Syrian Kurds' declaration of autonomy, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "We've...made it clear to these Kurdish forces [in Syria] that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones." He added that Kurdish forces in Syria "should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it's returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to—so that all displaced people can return there." This is a barely veiled reference to accusations that Syrian Kurdish forces are engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen in areas liberated from ISIS. But not only are these charges dubious, but Toner's statement ignores that often the only "civilian authorities" are in fact those of the Kurdish autonomous administration. More ominously, he warned that the US is in close dialogue with Turkey on the question and understands Ankara's "concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria." (This as Turkey is wagng a brutal counterinsurgency against Kurdish rebels within its own territory, to Washington's silence.) Ironically, he added that the Kurdish militias in Syria "are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East.
Supposed antagonists Bashar Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are both in the process of reducing cities to rubble: Aleppo in northern Syria and Cizre in eastern Turkey. The world is just starting to take note of the disaster in Cizre, which has been laregly invisilbe but won a flurry of coverage this week with the release a report by Turkish human rights group Mazlumder (PDF) finding that army campaigns turned the predominantly Kurdish city into a "war zone," with over 200 people killed and more than 10,000 homes destroyed over the past months. Officially, the troops were there to enforce a round-the-clock curfew in place between December and March, but it quickly became a counterinsurgency war to pacifiy (or destroy) neighborhoods under control of PKK youth organizations. "Cizre has witnessed unprecedented destruction following clashes which took place during a curfew lasting over 78 days, and unlike in curfews before, the curfew in Cizre saw mass killings," Mazlumder said. The worst single incident was the Feb. 19 massacre, in which some 150 Kurds sheltering in basements burned to death when the buildings were set on fire by military forces. Lawyers from the local bar association told Mazlumder that "following the deaths in the basements in Cizre, there was no crime scene investigation and no judicial authority was allowed to enter the basements." (BBC News, May 23; DW, May 18)
Egyptian officials announced on May 15 the conviction and prison sentences of over one hundred demonstrators who were peacefully assembling without a permit. Fifty one individuals were sentenced to two years in prison while another hundred and one individuals were sentenced to five years in prison. The sentences were handed down in connection with the April demonstrations to protest Red Sea islands being turned over to Saudia Arabia. Many believed the islands were apart of an economic deal, and opposed against the government decision, leading to the charges of joining terrorist groups and disturbing the peace. The demonstrations were broken up by police officers who used tear-gas. The courts are permitting the convicted to appeal, as there is a dispute about the evidence and a claim that innocent bystanders were arrested in the disturbance.
Turkish police on May 15 prevented members of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) from holding a party congress in direct opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by sealing off a hosting hotel. Police put up barricades to prevent party members from gaining access to the hotel where they had planned to hold a congress to challenge the growing power of Erdogan. Dissident party members previously sought judicial measures to force an extraordinary session, but the courts have failed to decide if the dissidents have a legal right to hold the congress. The MHP dissidents were attempting to gain enough signatures to force the extraordinary congress, after party losses in the November 2015 election.
A May 13 report from Amnesty International notes claims that chemical weapons were used by Syrian rebels against the besieged Kurdish enclave of Sheikh Maqsood in the divided city of Aleppo. Factions in the rebel alliance known as Aleppo Conquest "have repeatedly carried out indiscriminate attacks—possibly including with chemical weapons—that have struck civilian homes, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians, and have displayed a shameful disregard for human life," Amnesty said. It noted that two of these factions, Army of Islam and Ahrar al-Sham, have sent representatives to the UN-brokered negotiations in Geneva, while the others have approved delegates to represent them at the talks.
Tell us again how the "mainstream media" are prejudiced against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad? Regime warplanes again hit Syria's divided largest city of Aleppo and neighboring rebel-controlled towns May 8. The Reuters headline is straight-up regime propaganda: "Syrian warplanes counter-attack rebels near Aleppo." First, these are populated towns that are being bombed, and we can assume that civilians and their homes are being hit at least as much as (if not more than) any "rebel" targets. Second, the word "counter-attack" is used, with the explanation that the strikes came "as the government tried to push back a [sic] insurgent advance in the area." How many things are wrong with this? First and foremost: the insurgents are advancing in the face of ongoing regime terror of precisely this nature. The word "counter-attack" makes it sound like the rebels started the fighting arbitrarily. This is like Israel framing each new bombardment of Gaza as a "counter-attack" to Palestinian rocket-fire. Second, while we know that Reuters has to maintain its "objectivity," it is a little late in the day to be flattering the outlaw regime of Bashar Assad with the label "government." As we've said before: At this point, Assad controls only some 20% of the country. Assad is just Syria's most well-armed (and bloodiest) warlord, with powerful foreign patrons—but nothing more. Third (although it seems petty to mention it), Reuters could use a proof-reader.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced May 6 that he does not plan to change the country's anti-terrorism law, a requirement of a deal struck between Turkey and the EU in March. Erdoğan made the announcement after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was the key figure in achieving this deal, announced he would step down. EU leaders agreed to the deal with Turkey to stem migrant flows to Europe, particularly of Syrian refugees, in return for financial and political incentive to Ankara. One of the benefits for Turkey was visa-free travel for Turks, but a change in the anti-terrorism law is one requirement that Turkey is required to complete before the EU makes that determination. Erdoğan had previously told EU leaders that if all promises were not fulfilled, Turkey would not continue its responsibilities to receive migrants under the deal. Experts have expressed concern that the EU-Turkey deal may fall apart if Turkey does not agree to changes in the anti-terrorism law.
The partial "ceasefire" in Syria definitively ended April 28 when a strike by regime or Russian warplanes destroyed a hospital in Aleppo, killing scores, including several children and two doctors—one, the city's last pediatrician. (BBC News, The Guardian, Daily Mail) The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grave concern over a "monstrous disregard for civilian lives," and urged all sides in the Syrian conflict to refrain from targeting civilians. (Jurist) How much time did Democracy Now devote to this that day? A total of two lines of regurgitated wire copy that was not even featured on the front page of the program's website. (There was a follow-up blurb on Aleppo, of similar harsh brevity, on May 2.)