Category Archives: Syria

YPJ Commander Engizek Khalil: In Raqqa We are Fighting for the Honor of all Women

YPJ Commander Engizek Khalil
YPJ Commander Engizek Khalil

Along with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the female fighters of the Women’s Protection Units have joined the Raqqa operation and are fighting on the front-line in order to rescue the women taken by ISIS. Pointing out that ISIS are still selling women like goods on the market, Engizek Khalil, one of the Women’s Protection Units’ commanders, said,

‘It’s not only Kurdish and Ezidi women they are fighting for, but for the honour of all the women of the world.’

Responding to claims that civilians have been wounded in the operation, Khalil replied,

‘We are not going into Raqqa to hurt civilians. We are there to save them from persecution’

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Mutlu Civiroglu @mutludc

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First of all I want to say thanks to you, Khalil, for making time for us in the middle of the battle in Raqqa. The operation inside the city of Raqqa has been going on for about a month now – what’s the situation on the front right now?

Engizek Khalil: The People’s Protection Units (YPG), Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and some groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have been engaged in the joint Raqqa operation for a month now. The liberation of Raqqa has a very special meaning for women, because it’s in this city, which ISIS have declared as their capital, that they are trading women and selling them like goods. I can say that at the moment almost half of Raqqa has been liberated as a result of our operation. Our morale is really high, despite the fact that our progress has been equalled by difficulties.

What kind of difficulties?

Engizek Khalil: One of the difficulties is that ISIS have left bombs with drones. Inside the city, there are a lot of vehicles packed with bombs and ready to be exploded. The streets are full of tunnels so that they can come up from behind and attack. As well as that, mines have been laid at nearly every house in Raqqa. It takes times to deal with these things and advance. Whenever ISIS are forced to leave a city, they decimate it. That’s pretty much the situation here.

Human rights groups say that large numbers of civilians are being killed during the operations. General Stephan Townsend, one of the commanders of the coalition against ISIS, said that every care is being taken to protect civilians during the operations. How do you try to protect civilians?

Engizek Khalil: In a war environment, unfortunately there is a possibility that civilians will be killed. But we do everything we can to protect them. When we reach civilians inside Raqqa, we immediately remove them to safe areas. ISIS are using civilians as a human shield in order to prevent our advance. A lot of our colleagues have been wounded when trying to protect civilians. If you can’t protect civilians, there’s no point in going into the city. We are not going into Raqqa to hurt civilians. We are going to save them from persecution. It’s not true that large numbers of civilians have been killed during the operations. The coalition is making a huge effort to protect civilians from harm.

You said that the liberation of Raqqa has a special meaning for women. The women fighting in Raqqa are much talked about around the world. As a female commander, how do you feel to be fighting against ISIS in a city where women have been subjected to such horrific abuse?

Engizek Khalil: The women taken from Shingal as slaves were sold in Raqqa like goods. During the operations, we’ve rescued a lot of Ezidi women from ISIS and reunited them with their families. This gives a very special feeling of vengeance. This vengeance is for all the women of the world, not just Kurdish and Ezidi women; because all over the world women are victims of slavery. In the Women’s Protection Units, we are women from different ethnicities, including Kurds, Arabs and Assyrians, and we want to show that women can fight for freedom everywhere and in every way. When we’re fighting against ISIS, we always advance to the sound of our ululations and it terrifies the ISIS fighters.

According to the media, a group of Ezidi women came to Raqqa from Shingal [Sinjar] to fight against ISIS. Can you say something about them?

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Engizek Khalil: The support of our female comrades from Shingal has been a great morale booster. These women have taken up positions in the front-line against ISIS. They say they will stay fighting in Raqqa until they have achieved retribution for all the Ezidi women. As members of the Women’s Protection Units, we all stand together in the fight against ISIS.

When ISIS surrounded Kobane, it terrified the whole world. But they were defeated in Kobane and from then on they lost their momentum. Now you are advancing right in the heart of ISIS and have rescued half the city. So what will bring the end of ISIS and what shape will the struggle of the YPJ take after this?

Engizek Khalil: Along with some of the countries that are working with them, ISIS surrounded Kobane with the aim of finishing off the Kurds. It’s not wrong to say that Kobane had a braking effect on ISIS. There were only two streets in Kobane that didn’t fall. Through the struggle of our comrades like Arin Mirxan, who we will never forget, a brake was put on ISIS. We’ll fight against ISIS anywhere in the world we need to, not just in Kobane. Two years ago, the Women’s Protection Units were fighting against ISIS in Kobane and today we are fighting in Raqqa. The wave of fear that ISIS spread has been halted and now everyone can see that.

 

*Translated into English by Paula Darwish http://countryandeastern.net/

 

 

Berxwedan of YPG: Turkey Will Be Plunged into a Swamp if Tries to Occupy Afrin

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YPG Commander Mahmud Berxwedan, Canton PM Anwar Moslem, Photo (Mislim Nebo)

Mutlu Civirglu @Mutludc

YPG General Commander in Afrin region Mahmud Berxwedan responds to our questions regarding latest developments in Afrin region and reports about the Turkish media on a possible Turkish operation against Afrin.

Mr. Berxwedan, in the past several days there have been many reports published by Turkish media saying that the Turkish army and their supported militants are preparing a large-scale operation against Afrin, as a commander of the YPG, how do you see these reports? What is the current situation in Afrin?

Firstly, I extend my greetings to the listeners of the VOA Kurdish, anyone who hears our voice we greet them from Afrin. It is critical for us to share the realities in Afrin with the world outside. The Turkish govt controlled media have been spreading misinformation in the form of military psychological warfare for a long time, especially Erdogan supporting channels, spreading many groundless news regarding Afrin to undermine the reality in the region.

First thing for us to know is that Turkey is an occupying state, it has occupied parts of Syrian soil. From Jarabulus to Al-Bab, and towards Azaz, it has occupied Syrian territory in an action like the occupation of Liwa Iskandaroun. Turkey at the same time supports radical Islamist terrorist groups in Syria, and everyone knows this now. All of the terrorist groups came into Syria through Turkey. Conversely, all radical groups went to Europe through Turkey. The world knows about all this very well.

Now Turkey is making safe havens for the Ikhwans [Muslim Brotherhood groups], groups that most of their commanders were earlier working with Daesh [Islamic State] – their training bases are in Turkey, again openly, in defiance of world opinion. But now Turkey tries to fabricate these realities, while Turkey itself trained and backed these terrorist groups they now attempt to portray the revolutionary people of Afrin, those who are only defending their lands, as terrorists – this is formally deceiving the public opinion.

Is there a threat from Turkey towards YPG in Afrin?

From our side in six years there has not been one problem on our Afrin borders with Turkey. We have fired not one single bullet towards Turkey. The Turkish state however, is always violating the borders, occupying parts of Afrin soil, built walls along the border and repetitively shelled Afrin villages; causing many deaths and injuries.

But Turkey always claims that you [YPG] are attacking, and they are responding – most recently two days ago in a report by the Reuters, they said the YPG attacked and they repelled.

This is completely false. The reality is unlike how they falsely claim, as I said the Turkish state fabricates the facts on the ground using their special psychological warfare. People see on the ground that Turkey carries out attacks and shells the region – all Afrin villages from Qastal to Hizwan areas as well as Shahba villages are being targeted by Turkey.

The excuse Turkey gives for its occupation was to support radical groups against another terrorist group, for example the ones in Tal Rifat [east Afrin], which was liberated later on. Local people want to return back to their homes but Turkish shelling does not allow them to do so, however where Turkish shelling is comparatively mild, there are many who have been inhabited, for example Kafir Nayem, Kafir Nasih, and also Til Rifat despite Turkish shelling. People who are defending those areas are local to the areas, including Arab components from Jaish Al-Thuwar [Army of the Revolutionaries].

And regarding Afrin, for the past six years, it has been the most secure and peaceful place in all Syria, having a self-administration with local defense forces. With all this being said, Turkey tries to distort and portray a purposefully fabricated picture, claiming that ‘there is PKK there,’ ‘there are terrorists who have occupied the region’ – but in reality, the Turkish state has brazenly occupied parts of Syria, itself is an occupying force yet it tries to show the world a fabricated image. The people in defense positions are all native to Afrin, protecting their lands.

I would like to know about the two main forces in Syria, the US and Russia – if we start with Russia, what is their approach towards Turkish preparations, and speaking about the US, although there are collaboration with the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – and you yourself were the chief YPG commander during Kobane Resistance – does the US works differently with the YPG in Kobane and Jazira with the YPG in Afrin?

That is right, I was a part of YPG command in Kobane, and now I am in Afrin, the two are the parts of the same YPG.

Both the US and Russia know about the reality of Turkish activities; they also know what Turkey want to create, but Syria now has turned into an area of different competing interests. Despite that, our objective is to clear Syria from terrorist groups, be it in Jazira region or in Afrin region, and since the initiative of our forces, we have fought terrorism, Daesh or other groups; many lives have been sacrificed for this purpose. In our fight against terrorism, whoever stands along us, we will also remain true to them, the US or Russia – and we have the two countries support in both sides of the Euphrates, we would welcome their support in the future.

My last question is, if there was an attack on Afrin, what would be your response? What are your preparations? And how would a situation like that affect the ongoing Raqqa operation?

Turkey is preparing a plot for the region in general, without knowing that it would put everyone in danger, it would impact everything specifically the Raqqa campaign – Shahba and Afrin regions are strategically important for us. Such an attack by Turkey will influence forces that are present in the region, the Russians, for instance.

On the ground, Shahba and Afrin have a different situation than other areas, they are not like Jarabulus that Turkey can easily occupy. Turkey will be plunged into a swamp, politically and militarily – there will be an historical resistance against Turkish occupation in Afrin and Shahba regions. The people of Afrin along their military forces will defend themselves against such attempts.

I would also like to call on the people of Azaz who have long lived alongside the people of Afrin, and the people of Mare who in difficult times, Afrin and Shahba have supported them, to not allow occupying Turkey plans to sow hostility among peoples of the region – everyone must learn of these plans of the Turkish state.

 

*Translated into English by www.YPGRojava.com/en

YPG Afrin Spox: Turkey Attacks Us to Prevent Defeat of ISIS

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YPG spokesperson in Afrin region Ferat Xelil spoke on the recent situation and ongoing Turkish attacks against Rojava

Mr. Xelil, we got some reports that the Turkish military bombed the village of Afrin since last night. What is the accuracy of the reports?

Well, the Turkish state attacks on Western Kurdistan, Rojava since beginning of Rojava Revolution is continues intensively, not just Afrin but also other regions of Rojava. However, since the beginning, the Turkish state have the intention of restrict and destroy all the achievements of Rojava. As is known by all, Turkey is a country, which causes to grow of ISIS and encouraged them to attack to all Rojava and Syrian people. Obviously, Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) progress and taking several villages in the region Shahba from ISIS, upset Turkish state, and they clearly intensified their attacks against us. The region was bombed by aircraft until late morning. Out of this territory some villages of Afrin such as Hemame, Darbalut,Jindires, Merwania, Maydanakbaz was hit with heavy guns and howitzers. All attacks were made to set back the progress of SDF and prevent to the retreat of ISIS.

I’m just asking to clarify. Did occur attacks on different places yesterday? In first Shahba region where is located base of Jaysh al-Thuwar and SDF in east of Merea then villages of Afrin, isn’t it?

Yeah. They first attacked the Jaysh al-Thuwar then villages of Afrin. In these attacks civilians, most of children suffered causalities. As YPG and Rojava will not remain silent as we did not before on attacks, and we will give the answer to the attacks to protect our people.

Turkish media and some international media organizations such as Al Jazeera English allegedly killed 200 YPG fighters. Is there truth to these claims?

There is no accuracy of this news. 15 warriors of Jaysh al-Thuwar was martyred, also some injured ones. But the news is a lie that we have a 200 loss. No accuracy of a news serviced by the Turkish media. The numbers given, there is no injury or accuracy of the information they claimed they killed our warriors. There is no truth in the reports that allegedly killed and injured our warriors.

What is the purpose of such reports?

By this way, they are intended to disrupt the people’s psychology and morale. However, our people know and do not already trust the Turkish government, which has long conducted a psychological war on Rojava. These attacks are carried out by the Turkish state as trying to show to world still capable of comprehensive attack even although having a difficult time. In this way, they must think they can intimidate us and our people. But no matter what they do, neither our people nor YPG-YPJ we won’t step back.

According to Turkey’s General Staff’s statement “mortar shots fired from areas in YPG control areas, we answered them,” it said.

On the contrary, the continuation of yesterday’s attacks and attack these days we have taken our step as retaliation. For example; How did happen yesterday’s attacks? It really cannot say so openly lies. Why they did not mention yesterday but talking today? Turkish media that can deliver on all event-seconds and minutes can spread itself – making twenty-four hours after a statement says, “mortar shots fired from areas in YPG control areas, we answered them.” There is no such thing. We responded after the attack on us.

I want to come to Shahba region. The day before yesterday, Jaysh al-Thuwar had liberated five villages from ISIS. Turkey is a part of the international coalition formed to fight against ISIS. What is happening in that region?

When the QSD forces moving against ISIS, the Turkish state has intervened which have shown that secret alliances. Therefore, we cannot imply some concrete prove but indication shows that there is some agreement in the background.

What kind of alliances?

Attacks of the Turkish state continues uninterrupted after the Russo-Turkish talks. So as with not being able to say something concrete, then we reach the conclusion that arise in practice it seems to work. Today we see that the reason for the attacks of Sahba. We don’t see any condemnation from Europe, USA and Russia. Therefore, we consider that there are hidden, unspoken things in media.

From this viewpoint, as you mentioned briefly I would like to ask about the attitude of the United States and Russia. Do you have any contact with this power, particularly with the USA?  What do they say about it? Because there had been some disagreements regarding to Jarablus issue. USA had intervened to prevent deepening problems between Kurds and Turkey.

We as the YPG of the Afrin Canton have not worked with the United State. But obviously they cooperation in Jazira and Kobani together with our friends to fight off ISIS. Therefore, if the United States and Russia take a stand against these attacks, Turkey will not continue these attacks. But unfortunately, they didn’t take any attitude, as it turned out a long time. We hope that they won’t remain silent against these recent developments. We hope that we as Afrin Canton, it will be given support to the YPG-YPJ forces as they did in Kobane Jazira in order to demoralize power of ISIS. Obviously YPG-YPJ is only battle forces which able to defeat ISIS in ground. So when we look at the operation on retake Mosul from ISIS, we see that only Kurdish people demonstrating the power defeat on many fronts.

*  This interview was conducted on October 20, and translated from Kurdish into English by @menuras

Head of Afrin Canton Hevi Mustafa on Turkish Attacks

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Afrin is right now under great embargo, and the people have been living under heavy circumstances. Thousand people harbored to Afrin because of the war. They live in Afrin as refugee. The situation of these people are in dangerous, lacking of medicine and lack of milk for kids is a big problem.

We have no capacity to meet these needs. There are no any roof nor tents for the refugee to sleep. We created a communal system, we work together and share all our foods with refugees. So far nobody helps us and the refugees.

Moreover, Turkey has begun bombing Afrin. The people in these towns were only able to survive a three and a half year siege because they were supplied with essentials by us, Afrin Canton administration. Thousands of refugees from surrounding towns are now making their way to Afrin. There is very tragic situation, many women gave birth in nature. This is very tragic what happened to this people.

Turkish bombardment damages not only to people but also damage to the nature especially many olive-trees were eradicated because of Turkish attacks. In our border town Shiye, in border village Qirmila nearly 800 olive trees were uprooted by Turkish soldiers. We took the tree branches to extend our friendship Turkey but Turkish government does not make distinction between people und nature. While we wanted to show our peace intention to Turkish government but right now Turkish government attacks on the Hamame village, some civilians wounded during the attacks. We get into a difficult situation and under this situation we try to treat injured civilians.

Audio file of the message: 

Turkish Artillery Attacks on Jaysh al-Thuwar

Turkish forces attacked Manegh, Maranas, Malikia villages in Azaz countryside which is currently under Jaysh al-Thuwar which is a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) component.

azazzzzz

Jaysh al-Thuwar released a statement saying Turkey attacked the villages they recently liberated from Jabat al-Nusra and Ahrar al–Sham and by doing so Turkey shows its support to these groups.

Jaysh al-Thuwar  also say by this action Turkey shows its hostility towards democratic forces in Syria.

Jaysh al-Thuwar warns that attacking them will strengthen Assad forces as they prevent regime advancement towards north by controlling those areas.

Below is the Jaysh al-Thuwar statement:

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Here is a video by Hawar News Agency showing Turkish artillery attacks:

Aerial Footage of the Destruction in Kobane City

kobane tepeden

This flying camera footage shows the horrifying destruction in the City of Kobane after ISIS attacked the city on September 15 with heavy weapons.

After Kurdish YPG and allies defeated ISIS, now the local government is trying to expedite reconstruction efforts through http://www.helpkobane.com

Berxwedan of YPG: We Will Crush ISIS Anywhere in Syria

Kurdish fighters claim to have cleared Islamic State from Kobane

After liberating the city of Kobane, you began operations to liberate villages. What is the situation on the eastern, western and southern fronts? How far have you reached?

Mahmud Berxwedan: After liberating Kobane, we started a second advance. Since that day, approximately 20 days have passed. Within this time period, we carried out our operations successfully. Day by day, we are moving forward on all three fronts. We are liberating the land around Kobane bit by bit. On the western front, we have reached the point where we made close contact with ISIS on September 15th, we are somewhere near Shexler, there are 3-4 kilometers between us and the Euphrates. Around here, there are a small number of villages that are not yet under our control. Our operations are still ongoing around the villages of Kechelo, Jabalfaraj, Sevalo and Derbazin, and we will recapture these villages one by one.

Alright, on the western front, will you go beyond the Euphrates and go toward Jarablus?

Mahmud Berxwedan: Our top priority is to liberate the whole area around Kobane. Then we will start a new war with ISIS. Up until now ISIS conquered our land and we succeeded thanks to our friends who act with fighting spirit and made them suffer a great defeat. After taking the whole of Kobane under our control, I can say that we’ll start a war with ISIS, on September 15th they started the war, this time we will do it. Our struggle with ISIS will continue no matter where they go. We cut across all boundaries when it comes to fighting with them, we will liberate anyone who is targeted by ISIS.

YPG Commander Mahmud Berxwedan, Canton PM Anwar Moslem, Defense Chied Ismet Hasan and other officoals Photo (Mislim Nebo)
YPG Commander Mahmud Berxwedan, Canton PM Anwar Moslem, Defense Chief Ismet Hasan and other officials Photo (Mislim Nebo)

Your sound very confident and you seem to be in good spirits. What makes you speak so assertively?

Mahmud Berxwedan: We have faith in ourselves, in our strength and the YPG-YPJ fighters. We believe in our Kalashnikovs and our bombs. Anything else are supportive tools. We will crush ISIS in anywhere in Syria. We will fight with them first in the area around Kobane, then wherever ISIS goes.

Then, shall we say you will soon enter Jarablus, Manbij, Sarin and Tal Abyad? Is that right?

Mahmud Berxwedan: Wherever ISIS exists is our target. We don’t want to be misunderstood, we are not targeting the Arab people, we are targeting ISIS. We don’t have our eyes on anyone’s property. We just want to fight ISIS. Wherever they are, we will settle scores, old and new.

It has been reported that Arabs in places where ISIS holds control await your support, are these claims true?

Mahmud Berxwedan: Yes, they are. There are people who have escaped ISIS’s tyranny from Manbij and Jarablus, and they have come and asked for our help. They want us to save their land from ISIS, we promised to help them. We’ll help anyone who is subjected to ISIS’s tyranny and save them from it.

Mahmud Berxwedan

How about the situation on the southern and eastern fronts?

Mahmud Berxwedan: On the southern front, Shahid Xabur Hill has strategic importance because it overlooks the Qaraqozak Bridge and the area around Sarin. Girê Sêvê Hill, where there are intensive clashes, is now under our control, the YPG flag is flying on top of it.

Is it true that part of the Aleppo-Hasakah highway is under your control now?

Mahmud Berxwedan: Yes, a 25 kilometer-long section of Aleppo-Haseke highway just southeast of Kobane is under the control of our fighters. Qilheydê, Girêk and many other villages on the Rotko Highway were liberated by the YPG. On the eastern front, Bexdik, Idani and many other villages close to these places are under our control.

You are saying that you will support the Arab people who ask for your help and fight ISIS wherever they are in the world. Do the world powers also support you?

Mahmud Berxwedan: The ISIS thugs have become a nuisance for the world. Anyone who fights against them should support us, and increase the already extant support. Up until now, we have been fighting with limited means, always fighting with the weapons that we always mention. True that the Coalition Forces support us with airstrikes; however we still weren’t given heavy weaponry such as tanks or new weapons.

Everyone should take responsibility for this; we can be rid of ISIS only when we are united. We are fighting ISIS not only for Kobane but also for the whole of humanity. People should look out for Kobane not only about arms aid, but in terms of other things as well. Today a new Kobane is being built; everyone should act with a sense of responsibility. There was nothing left in the villages, the ISIS thugs had plundered everything. They had put landmines, bombs inside the houses to kill the civilians. That’s why de-mining organizations should come to Kobane as soon as possible.

It has been said that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which was on your side in Kobane, will lead the operations that you will conduct in places which are densely populated by Arabs. What do you have to say about the role played both the FSA groups and the peshmerga forces from Iraqi Kurdistan in Kobane?

Mahmud Berxwedan: The groups such as Siwar al-Raqqa, Shams al-Shimal, Jabhat al-Akrad fought with us in Kobane and still now are continuing the struggle on the front line. In Arab areas, they lead, and we assist them. But they also need other kinds of help and haven’t received any of sort of help yet. We try to help them with the limited means we have.

The peshmerga forces were the back support from the beginning, they are not on the frontline. They have heavy weaponry and can give any form of support depending on our needs. They never hesitated doing anything they could do.

Lastly, what percentage of the Kobane villages have been recovered? Also, the possibility of you entering Tal Abyad caused a stir among the people, what do you want to say about this?

Mahmud Berxwedan: 80% of the Kobane villages have been recovered. Our operations are still ongoing for the remaining 20%. We are planning to liberate Tal Abyad from ISIS. As I said in the beginning, we will fight ISIS with all the strength we have no matter where they are.

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For my participation to a show, interview me or get a quote on Kobane and other Kurdish related issues, please contact me at mciviroglu@gmail.com

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Kurdish-Arab Rebel Alliance May be Key to Obama’s Syrian Strategy

*Kurdish-Arab Rebel Alliance May be Key to Obama’s Syrian Strategy

YPG_FSA_Kobane

By Mutlu Civiroglu and Wladimir Van Wilgenburg

Now that the anti-ISIS coalition has struck Raqqa in Syria, it must seriously consider the Kurds as its most effective on the ground partners. The Obama administration needs local partners in Iraq and Syria to fight against the jihadist group, the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, ISIL, or the Islamic State) if it hopes to maintain any gains resulting from its attacks on ISIS positions.

A spokesperson of the main Kurdish armed group in Syria highlighted the importance of Kurdish assets. “Whoever wants to destroy ISIS should take YPG into consideration. Let me say clearly that any strategy in Syria without YPG is doomed to fail,” the People’s Protection Units (YPG) spokesperson Polat Can said in our interview with him. Given the Kurds’ extensive experience and professionalism, they represent the best the best chance to revitalize a beleaguered Syrian resistance and help President Obama achieve his objectives.

In his September 10 speech, President Obama ruled out the Assad regime as a partner in fighting ISIS and emphasized strengthening the Syrian opposition. “We must strengthen the opposition as the best counterweight to extremists like ISIL, while pursuing the political solution necessary to solve Syria’s crisis once and for all,” he said. While admirable that the president choose not to work with a man whose preferred strategy involves bombing his own civilian population, it leaves a dearth of effective partners on the ground. However, in Syria—just as in Iraq—cooperation between Kurds and Arabs could play a key role in eliminating ISIS. US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recognized the fact that Kurds constitute an important part of Obama’s new strategy to fight ISIS.

Although Iraq has witnessed firsthand the effects of ISIS-induced instability, neighboring Syria has suffered far more with the advances and atrocities of the extremist group. ISIS has succeeded in wiping out many Syrian nationalist armed groups that comprise the bulk of moderate anti-Assad opposition. Both the moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Kurds have faced attacks by ISIS, leading to incredibly large refugee flows into Turkey.

Nonetheless, the Kurdish YPG forces have successfully fought ISIS and won most of its battles in both Iraq and Syria. Not only was the YPG an asset in the rescue operation for thousands of Yezidis fleeing from Iraq’s Sinjar, it also secured a wide area in northern Syria from the Kurdish city of Afrin to Yarubiya, a town border to Iraq, despite the extremist push against Kurdish villages. These regions maintain relative stability compared to other parts of Syria, allowing Kurds, Arabs, and Christians to live peacefully together, thanks in large part to the ability of the YPG to keep a modicum of security.

Western diplomats have traditionally been reluctant to meet the PYD for their ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), viewed as a terrorist group in the United States and Turkey. After successful operations against ISIS extremists, however, both countries have begun reevaluating their positions towards it. The Wall Street Journal reported that US officials recognize the fact that Kurdish fighters in Syria may play a critical role in the campaign against ISIS, and have conducted talks with Syrian Kurds. The success of the YPG also prompted Turkish journalist Amberin Zaman to write about how the fight against ISIS has given the YPG and the PKK more legitimacy.

For their part, the Syrian Kurds have not only expressed interest and enthusiasm in pursuing Obama strategy against ISIS, they have already laid the groundwork for cooperation with Syrian nationalists. In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), YPG Spokesman Polat Can said, “We are the most experienced military force fighting against IS, and we are willing to actively participate in the international coalition. We are currently meeting many countries on this issue including with those who are decision makers.”

As the YPG continue its fight against ISIS on several fronts, it hosted a former rival on August 22. FSA Colonel Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi sought to mend fences with the Kurds by meeting YPG commander with General Commander of YPG Sipan Hemo in the Kurdish city of Afrin, north of Aleppo. Al-Oqaidi, the former head of the FSA’s military council in Aleppo, initially angered the Kurds by fighting jointly with Islamist groups against the Kurds in Aleppo. The FSA said it attacked the YPG for supporting Assad. Kurds allege this led to the killing of nineteen Kurdish civilians and the kidnapping of at least 400 others by the various rebel groups.

But in January last year, alliances started to change, when the Free Syrian Army clashed with ISIS, and lost huge swaths of territory in Syria, including Raqqa and the oil fields in Deir Ezzor. This led new cooperation between rebel groups and the Kurds, resulting in an agreement between the YPG and the Ahl as-Sham operation room in April last year to fight ISIS in Aleppo, and to cooperate against Assad. On August 22, al-Akidi and an FSA-delegation apologized for the FSA’s past mistakes, saying that Kurds, Christians, and Arabs, should work for the overthrow of the Syrian regime. “We want to work with the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the FSA if they accept the rights of Kurdish people and correct past mistakes,” Hemo said in a video.

In an exclusive interview, the Defense Minister of local Afrin Canton government Abdo Chilo, who took part in the meeting between the YPG and the FSA in Afrin, also told the Atlantic Council that the FSA wants to open a new page with the Kurds. “We told him we accepted his apology and we valued his visit. He realizes the power of YPG and wants closer relations with us, something we have long desired as well.”

The Kurds appear ready to fight alongside any secular group that will work for a pluralistic and democratic Syria against ISIS and the Assad regime. “We value Akidi’s visit and his request of help from YPG. It shows his willingness to work and create something good. We are ready to form a joint front with FSA and work against IS thugs and the brutal Assad regime,” Chilo added.

YPG spokesman Polat Can told Turkey’s daily Radikal that they are ready to work with anyone who is willing to fight against ISIS. “It has been over two years that we have been fighting against ISIS and like-minded extremist groups. We are keen on collaborating with moderate that respect to democracy, human rights and accept our national rights as Kurds.”

This historic meeting signifies a major starting point for effective cooperation against ISIS as well as the Assad regime. The meeting led to the formation of a new joint FSA-YPG operations room named “Euphrates Volcano” on September 10 in Kobane, which will carry out operations in areas surrounding Kobane, including the ISIS-stronghold of Raqqah. One day after its formation, the joint operation room carried out its first attack against ISIS in Qara Qawzak.

Abdurrahman Saleh, a spokesperson for ISIS, confirmed in our interview with him an alliance between Syrian anti-Assad rebels and Kurds, but suggested it to be a local alliance rather than a cohesive policy. “Some battalions of al-Tawheed brigade in Aleppo cooperate with the YPG against ISIS, but I do not know if this is a general decision, or a specific case. It may be a local agreement, rather than an overall strategy,” he said.

The new rebel alliance between the Kurds and the FSA could provide a determining factor to stop the expansion of the ISIS caliphate. If the FSA and the YPG can maintain a joint front, it will likely have a major impact on the success of fight both the militant group and the Assad regime in the longer run. The YPG, with its experienced and skilled fighters and strong popular support can provide a morale boost for the secular and moderate Syrian opposition and be a determining factor in preventing ISIS expansion in Syria. For Obama and the anti-ISIS coalition, keeping the Kurds incentivized to be their boots on the ground will be the key to fighting this war.

Mutlu Civiroglu is a Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. He has been closely monitoring YPG’s fight against IS and other jihadist groups. You can follow him on Twitter @mutludc

Wladimir van Wilgenburg is an analyst of Kurdish politics for the Jamestown Foundation and a contributing writer for Al-Monitor

* This article was originally published on Atlantic Council Website on September 23,  2014

US Consul Espinoza: “Biji Obama” Chants by Kurds Are Important For US

John L. Espinoza US Consoul to Adana, Turkey (Photo: http://adana.usconsulate.gov/consul_general.html
John L. Espinoza, US Consul to Adana, Turkey

Commenting on the “Biji Obama [Long Live Obama]” chants by Kurds after the U.S. bombarded ISIS targets in Syria’s Kobane, U.S. Consul John L. Espinoza said it was important for them to see the support people gave to their fight.

“I cannot speak directly for the White House, but the fight against ISIS is very important for the U.S. We see defeating ISIS as being linked to us. Of course, it is very important for us that people who see our fight support us,” said Espinoza, who is the U.S. consul in Turkey’s Adana province.

Espinoza said their fight against ISIS would continue and they were discussing ways in which they could better continue the fight against the ISIS threat together with the coalition forces.

“As this threat constantly changes, we don’t know how to fight against it tomorrow. Therefore, we need to assess the threat very well and struggle with it accordingly,” said Espinoza, adding that in meetings they conducted, they learned the reconstruction of Kobane was very important and they were working on the topic together with the coalition forces and Turkey.

Source: Hurriyet Daily News

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YPG Commander Berxwedan: Victory in Kobane Gave a New Spirit to Everyone Fighting for Humanity

Kurdish fighters claim to have cleared Islamic State from Kobane

Mr. Mahmud Berxwedan, you announced in an official statement the day before that you had entirely liberated Kobane from the ISIS. What does this victory mean to the Kurds and the whole world public opinion?

The attainment of victory in consequence of historic resistance for four months means the liberation of the whole humanity. The struggle waged here was the struggle of humanity. With restricted means, we fought against an organization that knows no limits in savagery. Many thought that Kobane would fall but fighters gave a struggle of honor. It was not easy of course, we witnessed historic days from the beginning to the end, and it was the history of not only Kurdish people but also of the whole humanity that laid here. Advancing step by step and with patience, we defeated our enemy in Kobane. Our operations are now continuing in villages. We are going to keep the fight going until no single ISIS member is left, no matter where it is. Victory in Kobane has given a huge moral support and a new spirit to everyone fighting for humanity. Everyone with the fear spread by ISIS in their heart has believed they could fight against these gangs and succeed.

Victory in Kobane had wide media coverage in various countries. On social media also, especially on Facebook and Twitter, numerous non-Kurds voice happiness over the victory and support for Kobane. The other day US State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki also congratulated fighters in Kobane and stated that their support for Kobane would continue. What do you think about this attitude of the world public opinion and America?

YPG Commander Mahmud Berxwedan, Canton PM Anwar Moslem, Defense Chied Ismet Hasan and other officoals Photo (Mislim Nebo)
YPG Commander Mahmud Berxwedan, Canton PM Anwar Moslem, Defense Chied Ismet Hasan and other officoals Photo (Mislim Nebo)

Everyone who supported Kobane led an example of great struggle. We express once again our thanks to them. Right, we have drawn ISIS thugs out of entire Kobane but they are not ended yet, this danger against Europe, America and the whole humanity continues its presence. It is the duty of the whole humanity to finish them. This is why the entire world welcomed the victory in Kobane. Everyone who supported us, regardless of where they are, have been a part of this struggle. This achievement is also an achievement of theirs and we believe their support will continue until ISIS is finished off all around the world.

I hear sounds of arms and aircraft while talking to you right now. I suppose you are at the battle front. Mentioning the villages, Kobane is located on a large area with around 380 villages. What sort of preparations are you making now to liberate the villages?

Without a break and with determination, we launched operations for villages, the day Kobane city was entirely liberated. I am now in a village, the name of which I would prefer not to mention, which we have liberated this morning. Our operation in this village and many other points continues. We have accomplished a result in some operations, reseizing further areas, the results of which we shall make public once others are also finalized.

I suppose an aerial strike is taking place right now, I hear sounds of warplanes?

Right, airstrikes continue!

Because you are at the battlefront, I don’t want to take up your time any longer. What would you finally like to say to the Kurds and world public opinion?

The Kurdish people and other world peoples have given us great support which we hope will continue. We are continuing our operations in villages. We will be liberating at least a few of them every day. In particular the Kurdish youths whose hearts are with Kobane, all those across Kurdistan, should come here and join the fight to reclaim the sacred lands of Kobane. Their participation will enable a quicker elimination of our enemy. Kobane city has been demolished and destroyed on all sides. The civilians here in particular are living under harsh conditions. The infrastructure of the city has broken down completely. The people here are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. As the military wing, we are dealing with an entire expulsion of ISIS from Kobane. World public opinion should support Kobane in economic, political, military and all other aspects. With this support we can make Kobane both a city of resistance and a beautiful town.

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Mutlu Civiroglu is a Kurdish affairs analyst focusing on Syria and Turkey. He has closely been monitoring YPG’s fight against ISIS and other jihadist groups.

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Translated into English by Berna Özgencil https://twitter.com/bzgncl