Category Archives: ABD

ABD YPG’ye Havadan Silah ve Cephane Yardımı Yaptı

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ABD Merkez Kuvvetler Komutanlığı (CENTCOM) yaptığı yazılı açıklamada, ABD askeri güçlerinin, IŞİD’e karşı Kobane’yi savunan Kürt güçlere (YPG) takviye yapmak için Kobane bölgesine havadan silah, cephane ve sağlık malzemesi yardımı yapıldığını duyurdu.

Açıklamada ABD Hava Kuvvetleri’nin C-130 tipi nakliye uçağının Irak’taki Kürt yetkililer tarafından sağlanan silah, cephane ve tıbbi malzeme yardımının, Kobane’de IŞİD’e karşı savaşan Kürt güçlere ulaştırdığı belirtildi.

Açıklamada, yardımın ardından uçağın bölgeden güvenlik şekilde ayrıldığı ifade edildi.

ABD Merkez Kuvvetler Komutanlığı ayrıca Amerikan askeri güçlerinin bugüne kadar Kobane’de IŞİD’e karşı 135 hava saldırısı düzenlediği de belirtildi.

ABD’nin Pazartesi sabahı Kobane’deki YPG güçlerine havadan yaptığı silah ve mühimmat yardımı önemli bir kilometre taşı olarak dikkatleri çekiyor.

Son zamanlarda Washington’un YPG ve PYD ile geliştirdiği doğrudan ilişkilerin daha somut bir kimliğe bürünmesi ve Rojavalı Kürtlerin uluslararası arenada daha da önemli bir konuma gelmesi anlamına geliyor.

Karar ayrıca YPG’nin IŞiD’e karşı oluşturulan koalisyonun da önemli bir aktörü olarak daha da öne çıkacağı anlamına da geliyor.

Özellikle YPG’nin Şengal’de oynadığı  ve uluslararası basın tarafından övgüyle bahsedilen rolü ve bir ayı aşkın süredir Kobane’de göstermekte olduğu güçlü direnişi de Obama yönetiminin bu kararına etki eden önemli unsurlar.

Yine, Amerikan medyası ve düşünce kuruluşları ve özellikle de Amerikan kamuoyunun Kobane konusundaki hassasiyeti  ve hükümete yönelik baskıları da Kobane konusunda hem hava saldırılarının artması  hem de silah yardımı yapması konusnda etkileyen önemli etkenler olarak dikkat çekti.

2nd Kurdish Conference in Washington Starts

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The New Kurdish Reality in the Middle East: Perils, Prospects and Possibilities

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Representative Office in Washington, DC

 Friday, September 26, 2014, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The National Press Club, Holeman Lounge

529 14th St NW Washington, DC 20045

 The optimism of the Arab Spring has too rapidly been replaced by a dramatic wave of violence throughout the Middle East. The whole geography stretching from Iraq to Libya has become a battlefield. The war in Syria alone has caused hundreds of thousands of casualties with no promise of peace in sight. Iraq is now fully a part of the Syrian war. While a process of Lebanonization has never been so imminent for Syria and Iraq, Lebanon, too, may be pulled into active warfare if no settlement is secured in these two countries. The latest violence in Israel-Palestine exacerbated the region’s tense political climate. The changing regional order presents opportunities as well as dangers: They carry a potential for instituting democratic citizenship while simultaneously planting the seeds of even more violent and dictatorial regimes.

Within this regional setting, Kurdistan is home to multiple perils, prospects and possibilities. The peace process in Turkey is underway, even if with complications and slow pace. The attacks of the so-called Islamic State on the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have motivated major Kurdish parties to act in relative unity. The “Kurdish problems” in the four Middle Eastern states have become further interconnected and more globalized, rendering the provision of justice for the Kurds essential for securing and sustaining regional peace and stability. Although regional powers and the West have typically viewed the Kurds as a “problem” people, there is now increasing awareness that Kurdish struggles for justice, democracy and sovereignty may, in fact, have much to offer for regional peace in the twenty-first century.

With such a vision, we invite you to our second Washington Conference, which brings together academics, experts and politicians from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the US to discuss the situation of the Kurds in a rapidly transforming Middle East and to foster dialogue among conference participants as well as with policy makers and the general public in the United States.

Opening Remarks by Mehmet Yuksel, HDP Representative in Washington, DC

***

Session I:  Future of Ezidis and Christians in Iraqi Kurdistan? 

8:30 – 9:45am

              Moderator: Kirmanj Gundi, Prof. at Dept. of Educational Administration and Leadership, Tennessee State University

  • Vian Dakheel, Ezidi MP in Iraqi Parliament
  • Karwan Zebari, Director of Congressional & Academic Affairs at KRG Washington Office
  • Dakhil Shammo Elias, Director of American Ezidi Center – Washington, DC
  • Abraham Miksi-Sahdo, Director of Political Affairs, American Syriac Union

Question & Answer Session

 ***

Role of Syrian Kurds in Fighting against ISIS    9:45 – 10:15

Introduction by Natsumi Ajiki, Human Rights Activist

Keynote Speaker: Salih Muslim, Co-Chairman of Democratic Union Party (PYD) (via Skype)

Question & Answer Session

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Session II: The Kurdish Situation in Syria: A Democratic Model for the Future   

10:30 am – 12:00pm

                     Moderator: Gonul Tol, Founding Director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies

  • Alan Shemo, Foreign Affairs Committee Member of the Democratic Union Party (PYD)
  • Rusen Cakir, Political Analyst on Turkey and the Middle East
  • Mutlu Civiroglu, Kurdish Affairs Analyst
  • Ruken Isik, PhD Student Concentrating on Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Maryland (UMBC)

 

Question & Answer Session

Session III: The Peace Process in Turkey

1:00 – 2:50pm

Moderator:  Hisyar Ozsoy, Assistant Prof. of Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Michigan-Flint

  • Kadir Ustun, Research Director at SETA Foundation, Washington, DC
  • Henri J. Barkey, Professor, Lehigh University, Department of International Relations
  • Nazmi Gur, Deputy Chairman of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

Question & Answer Session

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Session IV: The United States, the Kurds, and the Future of the Middle East

3:00 – 5:00pm

Moderator: Luqman Barwari, President of Kurdish National Congress of North America

  • Selahattin Demirtas, Co-Chair of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)
  • Sezgin Tanrikulu, Deputy Chairman of Republican People’s Party (CHP)
  • Najmaldin Karim, Governor of Kirkuk
  • Michael Werz, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

 Question & Answer Session

Countdown to 2nd Kurdish Conference in Washington, DC

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The New Kurdish Reality in the Middle East: Perils, Prospects and Possibilities

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Representative Office in Washington, DC

Friday, September 26, 2014, 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

The National Press Club, Holeman Lounge

529 14th St NW Washington, DC 20045

The optimism of the Arab Spring has too rapidly been replaced by a dramatic wave of violence throughout the Middle East. The whole geography stretching from Iraq to Libya has become a battlefield. The war in Syria alone has caused hundreds of thousands of casualties with no promise of peace in sight. Iraq is now fully a part of the Syrian war. While a process of Lebanonization has never been so imminent for Syria and Iraq, Lebanon, too, may be pulled into active warfare if no settlement is secured in these two countries. The latest violence in Israel-Palestine exacerbated the region’s tense political climate. The changing regional order presents opportunities as well as dangers: They carry a potential for instituting democratic citizenship while simultaneously planting the seeds of even more violent and dictatorial regimes.

Within this regional setting, Kurdistan is home to multiple perils, prospects and possibilities. The peace process in Turkey is underway, even if with complications and slow pace. The attacks of the so-called Islamic State on the Kurds in Syria and Iraq have motivated major Kurdish parties to act in relative unity. The “Kurdish problems” in the four Middle Eastern states have become further interconnected and more globalized, rendering the provision of justice for the Kurds essential for securing and sustaining regional peace and stability. Although regional powers and the West have typically viewed the Kurds as a “problem” people, there is now increasing awareness that Kurdish struggles for justice, democracy and sovereignty may, in fact, have much to offer for regional peace in the twenty-first century.

With such a vision, we invite you to our second Washington Conference, which brings together academics, experts and politicians from Turkey, Syria, Iraq and the US to discuss the situation of the Kurds in a rapidly transforming Middle East and to foster dialogue among conference participants as well as with policy makers and the general public in the United States.

***

Opening Remarks by Mehmet Yuksel, HDP Representative in Washington, DC

Session I:  Developments in the Iraqi Kurdistan and the Plight of Ezidis

8:30 – 10:00am

Moderator: Kirmanj Gundi, Prof. at Dept. of Educational Administration and Leadership, Tennessee State University

  • Vian Dakheel, Ezidi Member of the Iraqi Parliament
  • Karwan Zebari, Director of Congressional Affairs, KRG Washington Office
  • Ruken Isik, PhD Student Concentrating on Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Maryland (UMBC)

Question & Answer Session

Session II: The Kurdish Situation in Syria: A Democratic Model for the Future   

10:10 am – 12:00pm

Moderator: Gonul Tol, Founding Director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies

  • Alan Shemo, Member of Democratic Union Party (PYD) Foreign Affairs Committee
  • Rusen Cakir, Political Analyst on Turkey and the Middle East
  • Salih Muslim, Co-Chairman of Democratic Union Party (via Skype)
  • Mutlu Civiroglu, Kurdish Affairs Analyst

Question & Answer Session

 

Session III: The Peace Process in Turkey

1:00 – 2:50pm

Moderator:  Hisyar Ozsoy, Assistant Prof. of Sociocultural Anthropology, University of Michigan-Flint

  • Nazan Ustundag, Assistant Prof. of Sociology, Bogazici University; Researcher at SAMER
  • Kadir Ustun, Research Director at SETA Foundation, Washington
  • Nazmi Gur, Deputy Chairman of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

Question & Answer Session

Session IV: The United States, the Kurds, and the Future of the Middle East

3:00 – 5:00pm

Moderator: Luqman Barwari, President of Kurdish National Congress of North America

  • Michael Werz, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
  • Sezgin Tanrikulu, Deputy Chairman of Republican People’s Party (CHP)
  • Najmaldin Karim, Governor of Kirkuk, Iraq
  • Selahattin Demirtas, Co-Chair of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

Question & Answer Session

Please RSVP at hdp.washington@gmail.com to confirm your participation

Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency Takes Step Towards It ‘Centennial Vision’

By Mutlu Civiroglu

The Washington office is Anadolu’s second in the United States. Photo: Mutlu Civiroglu
The Washington office is Anadolu’s second in the United States. Photo: Mutlu Civiroglu

 

WASHINGTON DC – Turkey’s Anadolu Agency (AA) opened its Washington office last week, with the regional director of the official news agency saying that was an important step toward the  company’s vision of becoming one of the world’s leading news organizations.

Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, who inaugurated the office, said that Washington DC “is actually a very important capital for Turkey.”

He said the new bureau sends an important message to the US, demonstrating the significance Ankara gives to Washington, and Turkey’s willingness for closer relations.

Babacan said that the new office will allow AA to deliver important news from a capital such as Washington to a wider audience around the world.

Ural Yesil, AA’s regional director for Europe and Americas, told Rudaw this is the agency’s second office in the United States.

“We opened our central office in New York last year, and the Washington office is the second one in this country. We have our centennial vision of being a leading news agency in the world. That is why we are in Washington now.”

Yesil said that AA took the decision to expand operations in America – from the United States to Canada and Chile in Latin America – after successful operations in the Middle East and Europe.

“The Washington office is our 27th office abroad. We are covering 100 countries with our representatives and correspondents. On an average day we have 1,500 news stories, more than 2,000 photos and hundreds of videos in seven different languages,” he added.

He noted that in 2011 AA operated in only a single language, which had grown to seven with the addition of French last week.  He added that AA has 1,500 subscribers in 25 countries.

“Our goal is to become one of the top five news agencies in the world by the 100th anniversary, in 2020,” Yesil said, adding that was the company’s “Centennial Vision.”

Answering Rudaw’s question about the agency’s Kurdish service, which started last year, Yesil called that a brave move.

“Opening the Kurdish service actually was a unique decision from our side. You don’t see many news agencies broadcast in Kurdish. There are regions, countries that speak Kurdish. It is important to reflect the policies of the Turkish government and Turkey as a whole to the world and Kurdish regions,” he said.

He explained that the goal of launching the Kurdish service was that the agency wanted Kurds to hear directly from Anadolu about Turkey and Turkish government policies, rather than from other international agencies.

“We want to publish our stories in Kurdish and take out the middle man — to directly deliver our news to Kurdish end users. We think it is an important step for our agency, and we have been receiving positive feedback since we started our Kurdish service.”

HRW Official Speaks of Situation in Rojava, PYD Challenges

A delegation from New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) visited Syria’s Kurdish regions, or Rojava, last week, where the Democratic Union Party (PYD) has declared a Kurdish autonomous government with the help of its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

HRW Delegation is with YPG Spokesman Rêdûr Xelîl

In an important and detailed interview with Rudaw Fred Abrahams, a special advisor to HRW who was part of the delegation, spoke about whether the autonomous government declared by the PYD is truly inclusive as claimed, if local authorities are observing human rights, the status of women, the PYD’s legal reforms and its relations with the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad. Abrahams said that the greatest challenge for the PYD is transitioning “from a movement — an opposition group — into a governing body, or into creating authorities, systems and structures that would represent everyone.”

Q:  What was the main purpose of your visit to Rojava?

Fred Abrahams: The main purpose was to acquaint ourselves with the situation because it was our first time in the area. We had never been to the Kurdish regions. Certainly, we needed to get up to speed on the conditions during this latest conflict. So this was an opportunity for us to see conditions on the ground and to engage with the local actors who, as you know, are now establishing local governing structures and an administration in Rojava. They are essentially, as you know, the de facto authority on the ground both militarily, meaning the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, and politically Democratic Union Party. The main message we have for them, the overarching message is that when you are the local authority, even de facto authority, then with that comes legal responsibilities.

As you know, there are international standards for human rights that you are obliged to respect. We wanted to, first of all, see how they are doing in that regard, talk to them about those obligations, document the conditions, and discuss with the local authorities ways to improve them.

Q:  What did you find?

Fred Abrahams: There are some positives and some negatives. Good thing, first of all, is that the security situation in the far northeast is much, much better than in most parts of Syria. Now, this is not to say that the security situation is very good up there. It is not good. But, it is to say how horrible it is in other parts of Syria, which we know. Compared to other parts of the country, then, the security situation is relatively stable. Of course, there are still car bomb attacks and other violent incidences, and fighting, of course, on the periphery.

In terms of the human rights condition, we noticed a number of areas that are problematic. We talked about them very directly with the authorities. One of the first areas is what I would call political pluralism and respecting free expression and political activity. I think one of the overarching issues is for the PYD and Democratic Society Movement (TEV-DEM) transitioning from an opposition group — an armed resistance — into a governing structure that is representing all the citizens and all the residents in the area, and that means respecting different views, allowing political activity and allowing all different media. It means freedom of association.

There is, what I would say, still high intolerance for different political activities. There is some improvement of course. First of all, we were only in Jazira (Hasakah province), which is important to know. We could not go, for security reasons, to Kobani (Ain al-Arab) or Afrin. In Jazira we do not have now reports on political prisoners, so that is good. I think that is an improvement. There were some releases after the last agreement in Erbil. But we do have some indications that there may be still some in Afrin. It is very difficult to say — just because you are a political activist with the Kurdish Democratic Party of Syria (PDKS) or Kurdish Union Party in Syria (Yekiti) or another party does not mean that you are necessarily a political prisoner.

Q:  Politicians and local officials in the region claim that when some people are arrested because of criminal activities, they try to use a “political activist” label to prevent prosecution. Did you come across this?

Fred Abrahams: Yes, I think that is right. Look, it is very easy to scream about a political attack and try to score a political point. So, that is why we have to investigate these cases and see — just because you are a member of an opposition party, it does not mean that you can violate the law.

The issue that we have is not if you are an opposition member, but did they respect the process of the law? That is the area that we saw a problem. For example, to be concrete with you, one of the problems we saw is that the local authorities are trying to change their laws. They are applying a combination of Syrian law, some other laws of some countries and what they are calling the social contract — basically the constitutional document they have implemented.

The problem is that there is a huge confusion among legal experts, among lawyers, among judges — and even and especially among prisoners — about what law is being applied. If it is not clear what laws are applied, it could open the door for abuse or arbitrary application of those laws. I think that is a big problem!

One of the things we suggested to them was, look, we know that the Syrian law has a lot of problems. There are many aspects of the Syrian law that violates international human rights standards, especially discrimination against Kurds — that is obvious. So you do not need to take the aspects of the law that are in violation of human rights. But most of the Syrian law, it is fine. I can say maybe 90 percent, 95 percent of it is fine, when you are talking about normal crimes — theft, even murder.

These are standard laws that, I believe, Syrian laws were taken from the French penal code. Now it is not the time to open the door of legal reform. The country is in a war, the political situation is not stable. The court system — they are revamping and changing the judicial system and now on the top of that you want to open a question of new laws! We think it is too soon. You can change laws in the future, but now it is not the time to open this question. Rather than making fast changes, this should be done step-by-step.

Q:  How was the reaction of the authorities? Were they open to your suggestions?

Fred Abrahams: It was mixed. Let me put it this way: There was some understanding of that, and there was also a strong defense of the project — an ideological defense. I think this approach comes from the tradition of the movement, and that is what I am talking about by shifting from a movement to a governing structure. Those are different characters. Some people would agree with that.

We visited two prisons, and I give them credit for opening the doors for those prisons — I want to acknowledge the cooperation we had to visit those prisons. The conditions of the prisons were basically good. I mean, you know, it is a prison in Syria — it is not a place you want to be. But we did not find an evidence of serious problems. Prisoners said they were treated well. They had enough food, they did not complain about physical violence and so on. But we did notice a problem because we interviewed a number of people who were arrested and released. There is definitely a problem of violence at the time of arrest. This is a tradition of the Syrian system, which relies on forced confessions and this is typical in the region! I understand that a part of the problem is that they do not have a professional police — it is not like they have Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) or forensic laboratory for a professional police investigation over there!

However, it is illegal! Beatings at the time of interrogation is against the social contract (regional constitution); it is even against Syrian law and it is against international standards. But it is happening! We talked about it with them. We said very directly that we think it is happening, and I will tell you that they did not deny it. They said, ‘Look, this is our transition. We have to do better, learn, improve,’ and so on. That is fine. I agree with that. But it is not an excuse. So we are going to press on that — they can do better.

The other issue we looked at is child soldiers. First of all, the regulations of both YPG and Asayish (Kurdish police forces) prohibit the use of children under the age of 18.

Q:  Did they not sign the Geneva Convention a few months ago?

Fred Abrahams: No, but what happened was a couple of things. First of all, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey signed a public commitment not to use child soldiers with an organization called Geneva Call about a year ago. YPG is now in conversation with Geneva Call to do the same thing. Now, in addition to that, in December 2013, YPG released an order to all members that they cannot accept any person under the age of 18. All of that is very positive and welcome. But we have documented that the problem is continuing. I believe it is getting better. I believe they have stopped using younger children. For example, you do not see young kids at checkpoints. Before, there were even kids as young as 12 years old seen by others in previous trip to Rojava. But after the order, I do not think it is happening now. I think they have stopped that. But we have definitely documented cases still under the age of 18. We have gotten some 17 and maybe 16.

Q:  How are they justifying the use of children under the age of 18?

Fred Abrahams: The way they are justifying is that, ‘These people are volunteers. These kids want to contribute to the cause and they won’t go home.’ It is actually true — we spoke with the mother of one kid. She said that they pulled the kid out, and the kid ran back. Because he is 17 and wants to fight or he wants to be a part of the movement. That is fine, but the idea is that a commander should not have accepted the kid. It is the order that if you are not 18, the kid can do a political, media or humanitarian work. But you are not supposed to be a part of hostilities until the age of 18. So this is still a problem. We think that, frankly, they can do better. It is not that difficult since they are well organized. If they want to stop it, they can stop. We think they should do it.

Q:  Did you observe any other problems?

Fred Abrahams:  There are two other things we have looked at: One is the attacks by terrorist groups, Islamist groups — there was a car bomb attack on a local official, Abdulkerim Omar. We met with Omar and he was not hurt, but another man was killed. We met with his family — he was a father of five kids and he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So obviously, these are serious human rights violations committed by different Islamist groups or terrorist groups.

The other issue is the borders. I learned that the local government agreed with the Iraqi government to open the Tel Kocer (Yarubiya) border. This is an excellent news! I am not sure how much can get through Yarubiya because of the security situation on the Iraqi side, but it is certainly a positive step. I do not know what impact it would have on humanitarian conditions. As you know Turkey basically kept the borders closed. We found out that Turkey opens the (Senyurt) border with Dirbesiye once a month, and the last time was February 5.  Kurds in Turkey collect aid and then just deliver it into Rojava once a month through this gate. But, you know, once a month is completely inadequate!

Q:  As Human Rights Watch, have you requested the Turkish government to open the borders more frequently?

Fred Abrahams: Absolutely, we already have. We understand the politics of this, but the problem is that the politics are making people suffer. We believe the borders should be opened for the aid and aid is certainly needed in the region. People are not starving but there is a real shortage of essential foods and essential medicines. For example, baby milk is in short supply. If you have any chronic diseases, diabetes, then you are really in trouble. It is very difficult to get these basic medicines, and it is Turkey to blame for keeping some of these medicines out.

Q: I was in Rojava in October and witnessed the same things that you are describing. So, unfortunately people are going through similar situation?

Fred Abrahams: Yes, no question! There is a very tricky issue of the border at Fishkabor. Frankly, I think that the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) can do more to help the flow of the aid coming in.  I also know that all of this is a result of the messy politics. It is a real shame that people are not able to get what they urgently require! I noticed that there was a bridge, a pontoon bridge, across the river that is now dismantled and is not functioning. We believe the KRG can do more. They can do more to let aid in. Some is getting in — it is not completely closed — but it is not enough.

Q: Similarly, have you also contacted the KRG to do more about the situation?

Fred Abrahams: Yes, absolutely. We have already said that and I have said it in some interviews. We think that both Turkey and the KRG should put the politics aside and help people in need. Closing the borders is making the situation worse.

Q:  What did you observe about the situation of women in general?

Fred Abrahams: The most obvious answer to this question is the women fighters in YPG and Asayesh the stated commitment to gender equality in the TEV-DEM project. Frankly, as a concept it is incredibly welcome and very refreshing, which is so different from other countries and other areas in the region. However, I think it is not as deep rooted as it is presented to be. In other words, there is as you know a man and  a woman in the head of all institutions. They set a 40 percent quota for women in different institutions. But the leading authorities are still tending to be men. So it is an improvement, but I would not say the equality they claim it to be.

In terms of other women’s rights, I am afraid that we did not have time to investigate questions of, for example, domestic violence or sexual violence. We were only there for five days.

Q:  How is the situation of minorities such as Christians?

Fred Abrahams: It is a very good question, and it is also a topic for our next trip. We simply did not have time to visit any of the Syriac communities or others, and we have to do that. Look, I have to tell you one thing: All the authorities in Rojava are making a strong statement by including other groups and other parties. Frankly speaking, I think that is true and that is welcome. But, in my opinion, PYD is clearly the dominant political force. I want to come back to an overarching issue which is the PYD’s ability to transition or to evolve from a movement — an opposition group — into a governing body, or into creating authorities, systems, and structures that would represent everyone. That is going to be a process.

Q:  Is there any organization that offers trainings and workshops for the authorities in Rojava for this transitional process? Are the authorities open to such trainings?

Fred Abrahams: I only know of one group that is doing something. It is a legal group called “Kurdish Center for Studies & Legal Consultancy” also known as YASA. It is an organization with Kurdish lawyers based in Europe, and they have gone to provide some legal training. So my understanding is that they, the Kurdish authorities in Rojava, are open to it. I mean, they do want to improve. The question and challenge is going to be whether the PYD and the YPG is going to create an atmosphere of openness, tolerance, and cooperation among parties, and will it allow a space for other political groups and ideas. I think the sustainability of their projects depends on that. That sounds like a political statement, but it is not! I am talking from a human rights perspective that needs cultivating an atmosphere of inclusion and consultation, tolerating different views and different activities.

Q:  I heard you were also investigating the Amuda incidents. Is that true?

Fred Abrahams: Yes, that is true. We also visited Amuda, and we are still in the process of examining all the evidence. We do have concerns about possible excessive use of force, but we have to examine the specifics to determine whether there was any force used against the fighters. YPG claimed that one of their fighters died. The counterclaim is that this guy died in the fighting at Hasakah and did not die at all in the protest. We have to examine materials given to us. We have not yet reached our conclusions. But we will look at it and hopefully have something to say on that.

Q:  Your trip to region came after the announcement of the local autonomy in the region. What do you want to say about that?

Fred Abrahams: I think PYD is playing a very strong role in the autonomy. I do not think anybody would deny that. In my view, they play more of a role than they think they would admit — that is not as pluralistic as the administration claims. But it is also true that it is not only PYD. And there are other parties as well. So again, I come back to my main point: Will it really become an administration that is for governing and not for ruling — those are two different things. I would say the PYD is the strongest force on the ground — that is quite clear. And their influence is the strongest within the governing structure.

Q:  Finally, what about the Assad regime’s presence in Rojava. I know in Qamishli there is a certain regime presence. What was your take on Assad’s power in Kurdish towns?

Fred Abrahams: The Assad forces and the government is basically present in three places in Qamishli: One is in the center so they call it kind of ‘security square,’ you know, the center of town. I think that also includes some Arab neighborhoods. The second is on the Turkish border at the border crossing. The third is at the airport. The airport is important — the UN World Food Program, they airlifted in some humanitarian aid a few weeks ago through this airport. Kurdish authorities told us that they did not see any, any ounce of that — no grain or rice! So, all of the aid was distributed elsewhere. I assume to the government controlled areas, but I do not know for sure. But it definitely did not go to the Kurdish areas! So the regime is there, but as you know, there is an agreement or accommodation so the Asayish forces and the government forces are sometimes passing each other in the street, and they tolerate each other, or there is an agreement, obviously, in an accommodation to allow each other’s presence. But that is a current agreement that they have.

Q: What would be the reason for such an agreement?

Fred Abrahams: To me, it is quite clear that, at this moment, they have no interest in clashing with each other except their common enemy, namely the Islamist forces. So there is a mutual understanding of an agreement to tolerate one another rather than clash. But, how long that would last is unpredictable. I think it would hold so long as their common enemy.

Q: Finally, have you been told about human rights violations and atrocities committed by jihadist militants?

Fred Abrahams: Yes, the first thing is attacks because they are indiscriminate and many times it causes civilian deaths. But then, of course, kidnapping of civilians, which are still occasionally happening — in the past it happened a lot. And finally the maltreatment of fighters who were captured. I saw reports — horrible killings and the beheading of four YPG fighters recently, I think, it was in Afrin. That is an extreme violation of war crime. You know, you have to treat prisoners of war humanely. The last thing I would say is that we did not visit Ras al-Ain or Serekaniye, but I know in that town they complain about looting of a hospital. When the Islamist forces were in the town, they stole all medical equipment from a hospital. That is, of course, a serious violation. It was a civilian hospital and they are still suffering from that, having to buy, import equipment.

http://rudaw.net/english/interview/02032014

Time for U.S. to Embrace Syria’s Kurds

Mutlu Civiroglu, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Mutlu Civiroglu is a Washington, DC based-journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. You can follow him @mutludc. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The United States has been searching for an ally in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011. But while the exiled opposition coalitions have been dogged by infighting and a lack of real influence inside Syria, and the armed opposition within the country is rife with extremists, Washington has been ignoring a natural and potentially valuable ally: the Kurds.

Kurds administer the most stable, peaceful corner of Syria, and have been open in trying to secure better relations with the West. Yet despite this, there is little to speak of in terms of ties. It is time for Washington to accept that if it wants to eventually see a peaceful, pluralistic Syria, then the Kurds are its best partners moving forward.

Unlike the main opposition coalition, Syrian Kurdish groups are united. Indeed, the two major Kurdish umbrella groups, the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK) and the Syrian Kurdish National Council (SKNC), recently announced they had reached agreement on several key issues, including unified Kurdish participation at the Geneva II Conference.

Unfortunately, Washington does not seem interested in Kurdish participation. According to some SKNC leaders, U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford pressured Kurds to be part of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) rather than pushing for Kurdish participation in Geneva. “We don’t understand why Ford has such a negative attitude towards Kurdish parties,” SKNC official Ahmed Suleiman reportedly told Voice of America.

But this approach has little chance of success, especially as the SNC has shown little desire to recognize Kurdish demands. In fact, the SNC went as far as to denounce the Kurds’ recent declaration of autonomy: “Its declaration of self-rule amounts to a separatist act shattering any relationship with the Syrian people who are battling to achieve a free, united and independent state, liberated from tyranny and sovereign over all its territory,” the group said.

This failure to recognize Kurdish demands is at the root of much of the Kurdish suspicion of the Arab opposition. True, rather than take on a military equipped with sophisticated weapons and advanced air strike capabilities, Kurds have been trying to protect their homes and build self-government from the bottom up. But just because Kurds don’t want to fight the al-Assad regime on somebody else’s behalf doesn’t mean they are regime collaborators.

The picture is further complicated by the fact that Washington ally Turkey strongly rejects any status for Kurds, and has looked to prevent Kurdish participation in Geneva. These diverging interests between Washington and Ankara surely underscore that it is time for the international community to develop a Kurdish policy of its own.

The reality is that the armed Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) deserves recognition for fighting extremist groups. The YPG claims to have killed almost 3,000 fighters from fundamentalist groups such as al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, efforts that have also included notable roles for female fighters.

Meanwhile, Syrian Kurdistan is the safest and most stable corner of Syria, and has been a safe haven for those fleeing violence. The Kurdish focus on defending territory from both government brutality and extremist attacks, rather than taking a front and center role in the conflict, has meant that Arab, Assyrian and Chechen neighbors have been able to live relatively peacefully together in Kurdistan.

Against this backdrop, Kurds last month announced an interim administration to fill the vacuum that followed the regime’s 2012 withdrawal from Kurdistan. The administration aims to provide social, economic, educational and health services even as the people of Syrian Kurdistan live under tough conditions imposed by al Qaeda affiliates. There is, for example, a shortage of basics including bread, milk, baby food and medical equipment. A lack of electricity and fuel is making life difficult for locals during the winter, and providing assistance would be a good step for Western capitals to take if they want to boost ties with a population that could provide valuable support for their goals.

The U.S. and its allies would find it in their own interests to stop ignoring the Kurds and instead welcome their participation in Geneva – a conference that ignores Syria’s largest ethnic minority, after all, will not produce any viable solutions.

Kurds across the world have demonstrated their solidarity with Syrian Kurdistan. It is time that Washington joined them.

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2014/01/13/time-for-u-s-to-embrace-syrias-kurds/

Syrian Alliance Says ‘Yes’ to Geneva 2 but Other Groups Still ‘Sceptical’

Nadeen Shaker , Monday 20 Jan 2014
Ahead of the peace talks on 22 January, Ahram Online’s Nadeen Shaker says the conference will fail to unite all opposition groups, leaving door open for prolonged divisiveness and conflict

An alliance of Syrian opposition forces have decided to take part in internationally-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the Syrian crisis.

The National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCSROF) met in Istanbul on Saturday and voted to attend the peace talks, ending a prolonged debate over the group’s participation that has led to the conference being delayed twice since June.

In May, Russia and the United States announced plans to organize a conference dubbed Geneva-2 that would bring warring sides to the negotiating table and ideally close the lid on a dire situation that has left 130,000 dead in nearly three years. Plans were suspended in June, and again in November.

The current talks are now slated for 22 January and will open in Montreux, Switzerland.

The summit is set to convene despite the risk of angering many opposition members who have either favoured non-participation or claimed misrepresentation. Opaque and contentious, the conference agenda could threaten the very viability of the talks.

Issues of representation

In the weeks leading up to Saturday’s vote in Istanbul, some blocs within the deeply-divided and broader Syrian National Coalition (SNC) vehemently condemned attending the talks.

The Syrian National Council, one of the coalition’s most influential blocs, refused participation on the grounds that “no international power has been willing so far to actively force the Assad regime to stop its barbaric killings of the Syrian People,” SNC member Obeida Nahas told Ahram Online.

Large parts of the opposition are opposed to attending the summits, said Yezid Sayigh, a Syria expert and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Centre, in a Skype interview with AO.

Sayigh pointed to rebel groups on the ground like the Islamic Front, which have completely withdrawn their recognition of the opposition coalition.

He added that other groups such as the Kurdish National Council (KNC), the umbrella group of several Kurdish parties, and the Syria-based National Coordination Body for Democratic Change (NCBDC) are not opposed to attending, but do not wish to come under the National Coalition’s umbrella.

The UN along with the two states spearheading the talks — the United States and Russia — have stipulated that the opposition form under or be represented by a single delegation in the talks, thereby partnering internal oppositional groups with the exiled coalition.

In response, the NCBDC withdrew their attendance from the talks on 15 January, according to AFP, citing an imbalanced representation and lack of seriousness.

Syrian Kurds, the biggest ethnic minority in the country, are similarly not allowed to have their own independent delegation.

“The US and the west impose the SNC upon Syrians as their sole representative,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Washington-based journalist and Kurdish affairs analyst, speaking with AO for this article.

“The fact that the SNC has been dogged by infighting and a lack of real influence inside Syria is problematic, and will likely not bring any solution to the problems of Syria, including Kurds,” Civiroglu added.

Kurdish discontent has spurred three “Twitterstorms” demanding Kurdish representation at the Geneva conference, Mark Campbell, a pro- Kurdish rights campaigner, said in an email to AO.

He, along with other Kurdish activists and campaigners, began the Twitter hashtag #KurdsToGeneva2 which soon spiralled into an outpouring of Kurdish discontent over why they were not invited and who would be chosen to go to the summit.

Al-Monitor reported that on 18 January, the SNC decided that the only Kurdish representatives at the conference will be members of the Kurdish council’s foreign relations committee. This might exclude key figures like Salih Muslim, leader of the pro-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD). Campbell said that Kurds in north and northeastern Kurdish Syria, an area also known as Rojava, view Muslim as their international leader and representative.

Campbell suggests that the People’s Council of Western Kurdistan (PCWK) as well as the military forces on the ground in Rojava should be added to the non-materialized list of attendees.

Many KNC members are sceptical about the coalition’s sincerity towards pressing ahead with Kurdish demands, the top of which is Kurdish autonomy, Civiroglu adds.

Much like the main opposition, a major Kurdish demand is the stepping down of incumbent Syrian President Bashar Assad. Others include drafting a new constitution based on the principle of ethnic plurality, the abolition of racial laws which target the ethnic group and the advancement of political decentralization and self-rule.

Civiroglu warns that “it is likely that Kurdish members will leave the umbrella group if they realize that the SNC does not have any intention of addressing Kurdish demands.”

Geneva-1 agreement: a basis for talks?

The talks in January are expected to use a previous agreement, known as Geneva-1, as the main framework for negotiations.

However, the stipulations of the Geneva-1 meeting have been hotly disputed since it was held last June. Although concluding with an agreement for the formation of a transitional government and the implementation of a future truce, neither of these things have come to light since then.

Radwan Ziadeh, executive director of the Syrian Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (SCPSS), told AO that he thinks the main aim of the talks in January should be putting into effect Geneva-1, namely setting up a main body for the transition process, releasing political prisoners and opening humanitarian corridors.

This was echoed by Nahas, who added that the future governing body or council will be the “only legitimate power in Syria,” but the SNC member made a crucial point in insisting that “neither Assad nor his officials who are implicit in war crimes and crimes against humanity would be part of the future Syria.”

Seeing Assad go is a prerequisite of a large majority of the opposition. Having the upcoming conference focus only on Geneva-1, then, which offers a solution of transition rather than explicit removal, explains why many opposition groups are defiantly refusing to attend the conference in Switzerland.

“The SNC is very sceptical that any outcomes of the Geneva-2 conference will be enforced,” Nahas continued.

However, Nahas said, there is some room for adjustment: “The council’s position will only change if the facts on the ground change: if prisoners are released, bombings stopped, and so on.”

Similar to Saturday’s meeting in Istanbul, nearly 200 Syrian opposition fighters met recently in Cordova, Spain, to flesh out a unified opposition stance to present to the international community, according to an Ahram-Weekly article by the Syrian journalist Bassel Oudat. Assad’s removal and the trail of his henchmen were heavily pressed at the meeting.

Sayigh, the Syria expert at Carnegie, foresees that the Geneva-1 agreement will fail to garner enough support in the absence of a proper debate on the transitional process.

“On one hand, Geneva-1 is supposed to be the basis of the conference and what will be discussed,” he said. “However, it is clear that the US and Russia have not reached sufficient common ground on their understanding of the substance of transition or the sequencing of it.”

In the absence of a strong and dynamic opposition, Sayigh said, the talks will likely digress into agreeing upon “confidence-building measures” like humanitarian aid and ceasefires, instead of finding thorough political solutions.

In fact, to jumpstart peace talks, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem handed proposals to Moscow on Friday regarding a ceasefire in Aleppo and an offer for a prisoner swap.

US Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the efforts to be a diversionary ploy ahead of the talks.

“Nobody is going to be fooled,” Kerry said, according to AFP.

Nahas is worried about the fact that the regime is still behaving like a juggernaut after nearly three years. Also worrying is the opposition’s distrust of major players in the peace process.

Syria has lost most of its national independence because Assad has pursued a policy of “crushing people” rather than reform and democracy, he said. Such a policy, he argues, has allowed Iran and Hezbollah forces to occupy Syria, which has further complicated future political dialogue and resolution.

Perhaps most distressing is the opposition, though, which is becoming increasingly isolated diplomatically.

It has some international support, he says, especially through the Friends of Syria Group, a diplomatic collective which was formed after Russia and China’s repeated vetoes of UN Security Council resolutions.

“But its trust in others is minimal,” he said.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/91936.aspx

PYD’s Salih Muslim: We Want American People to Stand with Us

PYD’s Salih Muslim: We are Awaiting an Invitation for Talks with Washington
Leader of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), Salih Muslim.

Salih Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, says that clashes between his group and jihadi fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda have been on the rise, and appeals to the United States and Europe to understand that they are all facing a common enemy in the Syrian civil war. Muslim recently paid an important visit to Turkey, which has remained deeply suspicious of the PYD for its affiliation with Turkey’s own separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). He believes that visit may open doors with negotiations with Washington, which so far has remained silent over media reports of Kurdish massacres by jihadi extremists. Here is an edited transcript of his interview with Rudaw:

Rudaw: The American media have covered the fight between Syrian Kurds and the Islamist al-Nusrah front, but the US administration has remained silent. What do you think about this?

  The jihadi groups do not target only Kurds, but also Assyrians, Armenians and other ethnic and religious minorities.  

Salih Muslim: The jihadi groups do not target only Kurds, but also Assyrians, Armenians and other ethnic and religious minorities. But it is only Kurds that are fighting against these jihadist groups in Syria. We fight with them for ourselves and for protecting our people. These attacks are continuing since the beginning of this year, but have been expanding recently. We have so far defeated them and we are fighting to prevent them from controlling new regions. I want the American public and the entire world to know that we are trying to stop these jihadist groups, and we want them to stand with us. These people attack innocent civilians and kill children, women and old people simply because they are Kurds. They issue fatwas that raping Kurdish women and looting their properties is legitimate, after you kill their husbands. This is what happened in Tal Abyad recently. In the Tal Arn and Tal Hasel towns of Aleppo tens of innocent Kurds, most of them children, were massacred. Also, hundreds of other civilians are being kept as hostages by these groups, and their fate is still unknown. This horrible mentality and these heartless crimes should be seen and condemned by everybody. Unfortunately, the United States and Europe have not done anything yet! Russia has recently been very vocal about the vicious crimes against us, but the US and Europe have not even condemned atrocities against civilian Kurds! Why are they ignoring attacks of these al-Qaeda related jihadists? We have so many injured and wounded people who need medicine, but they do not even send us humanitarian aid! Everybody in Syria received international aid, but not us, the Kurds! On the contrary, we are under an embargo from all around and we are trying to live under dire circumstances. We call upon the international community to hear our voice and show their solidarity and support for Kurdish people.

Rudaw: Recently, CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell told the Wall Street Journal that al-Qaeda extremism and civil war in Syria pose the greatest threat to US national security. Even though you are fighting the same groups, why do you think the US remains silent?

  Russia has recently been very vocal about the vicious crimes against us, but the US and Europe have not even condemned atrocities against civilian Kurds! 

Salih Muslim: In my opinion there are some who do not want to see that it is in the interest of Americans to meet with Kurds and get to know them better. As the chairman of the PYD, I have applied twice for a visa to travel to the United States, but they did yet not respond to my request. I wanted to go there so that I can tell American officials about our views, and inform them about the situation in Kurdistan and the rest of Syria. It seems like some people are trying to keep Americans away from us for their own interest; unfortunately, some Rojava Kurds are among these people. Whether those people like it or not, it is we who are fighting against the Jabhat al- Nusrah and other jihadist groups, and trying to stop them. Honestly speaking, I do not know either why American officials are not willing to meet with us. This question needs to be directed to them and especially to those who are at the Syrian desk of the State Department, so that we all know what their problem with the PYD is.

Rudaw: Do you have any problems with or any animosity against the United States?

Salih Muslim: Not at all! Not now, not before! We have never had any animosity against America and the American people. Quite the opposite, we see our future in Western democracy, and we are trying to implement it in our own society. We are trying to apply Western values to our society and further develop our way of life.

Rudaw: After your visit to Turkey, are you expecting a positive shift from Washington? Some believed that the US did not want contact with you because of Turkey. Now that Turkey itself has hosted you, are you expecting an invitation from Washington?

  We are trying to apply Western values to our society and further develop our way of life.  

Salih Muslim: We also thought that because of Turkey’s reaction Americans were not willing to talk with us. After I went to Turkey I shared our views with Turkish officials and told them about our vision. Following our talks we have realized that we think similarly on many points. Some issues had been conveyed to them in a wrong way. In my opinion, those who did not want us to have any contact with Turkey are the same people who are trying to create animosity between the US and the PYD. Rather than hearing from others, it is best to directly talk to someone, because you will understand each other better and you will get the most accurate information. So, yes we are expecting an invitation from Washington to talk to them and tell them what we stand for and what we want.

Rudaw: What would you say to the American people?

Salih Muslim: The United States is the cradle of democracy and the American people support freedom for everyone. (US presidents) Franklin, Roosevelt and others are all known for their support for freedom. Today, we are struggling for our freedom, and we are not far from what American people stand for. When we think about freedom it is America that comes to our minds. There is no doubt that the interests of the American people are not contrary to ours.  Those who attacked the American people are now invading our homes, and attacking Kurdish people. We want American people to stand with us in our fight against those who attacked them, and caused them deep grief.

– See more at: http://rudaw.net/english/interview/16082013