Showing posts with label Kurds. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kurds. Show all posts

October 21, 2019

War is Without Purpose And As The Kurds Prepare to Fight or dig themselves in the Ground Families Separate

Crossing the bridge over the Tigris river into Syria from Iraqi Kurdistan.
Daniel Estrin/NPR


Mohammed Sheikho and his family fled heavy fighting in their town of Tel Abyad, Syria, and had been on the run for three days trying to reach safety in Iraq when NPR encountered them in northeastern Syria on Sunday.

Our small NPR reporting team arrived in Syria just in time to witness a historic moment in the long-running civil war. But we didn't think we would have to rush out so quickly.

It was on Sunday. Only a week before, President Trump had ordered some U.S. troops to exit parts of northeast Syria, making way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces controlling the area. The day we arrived, the Kurdish forces invited the Syrian government to retake the territory and fend off the Turkish invasion.

As the Syrian government military advanced, we found ourselves among other journalists and aid workers scrambling to escape, fearing arrest by the regime — and leaving behind the Syrians we had met who had no easy way out. 

Mohammed Sheikho and his family fled heavy fighting in their town of Tel Abyad, Syria, and had been 
on the run for three days trying to reach safety in Iraq, when NPR encountered them in northeastern 
Syria on Sunday.
Daniel Estrin/NPR

Entering Syria took hours. At the border crossing in Faysh Khabur, northwestern Iraq, we processed paperwork with Iraqi Kurdish officials and sipped Qazwan coffee, a Kurdish hot drink with notes of pistachio, with the border manager we liked to call the Big Responsible, as he was nicknamed in Arabic. Then we shuttled across a rickety bridge over the Tigris River into northeastern Syria.

We soon saw a local journalist in tears. Her Kurdish fighter friend had just been killed in battle.

Our driver Hamoudi picked us up in a large white van with a license plate with Kurdish, Assyrian and Arabic written in red, a mark of the diversity of this corner of Syria. (He doesn't want his full name used to avoid trouble if the Syrian regime takes over his area and discovers that he worked with journalists.) His stuffed gorilla named Zizo rode on the dashboard. Zizo has accompanied Hamoudi for five years, witnessing the rise and fall of ISIS in this part of Syria, and he would join us in this latest chapter of the war in Syria.

We drove past oil rigs and cows grazing in yellowed fields. Pickup trucks sat roadside, packed with stacks of colorful mattresses, bags of eggplants and tomatoes, and young women who look much older than their age. We pulled over.                                  

A 70-year-old man with a weathered face, Mohammed Sheikho, was with his siblings and their families. They had fled heavy fighting in their town of Tel Abyad, Syria, and had been on the run for three days, sleeping in the desert, trying to reach safety in Iraq. They had not been able to cross the border for lack of the right documents.

He was thinking of those he left behind. "My sons are stuck in Kobani," a Syrian city under Turkish bombardment with roads cut off, "they are surrounded," Sheikho said and wiped away his tears with the scarf on his head. He then drove off to find a place to sleep for the night.

It is horrible to see a grandfather cry. It wouldn't be the last time we witnessed that on our trip.

The Syrian town of Derik is about a half-hour drive from the Iraqi border and a few hours' drives away from where Turkish-backed troops are pummeling Syrian Kurdish forces, as U.S. troops quickly withdraw.

We reached the Syrian town of Derik, about a half-hour drive from the Iraqi border and a few hours from areas where Turkish-backed troops were pummeling Syrian Kurdish forces, as U.S. troops quickly withdraw. Derik is considered an upper-middle-class town. The town is known for its homegrown musicians, according to Sangar Khaleel, a Kurdish journalist who was our guide. They are throaty singers with the "voice of the mountains," he said. No one was singing that night.

Before sunset, we took a drive around town. Wedding halls and some restaurants were closed as battles raged nearby. Some Kurdish officers were building scaffolding in the road. A man in fatigues said they were making a canopy to keep troop movements hidden from Turkish drones, anticipating the fight coming to their town. We wondered how this contraption would protect them from a forceful opponent. 

We spotted a church and wound up crashing a baptism. Baby Hanna, just a few months old, cried while women trilled in celebration. Clergymen in gowns with golden embroidery dunked him in a marble basin of holy water. They chanted prayers in ancient Aramaic. A relative offered us tiny blue candies decorated with baby figurines. It was Sunday, and the priest said he urged his worried congregation to lean on their faith for comfort. Turkish shelling had hit nearby villages the night before.

All this chaos began after the White House's Oct. 6 announcement that NATO-member Turkey was ready to launch an offensive into northern Syria and some U.S. military personnel would stand aside. The U.S. troops were stationed there in support of Syrian Kurdish forces in the fight against ISIS and the U.S. presence as a buffer against Turkey. The Turkish government considers the Kurdish forces as part of an insurgency threatening its national security.

The day we entered the country, as Turkey's offensive intensified, President Trump said the U.S. would be pulling all its troops out of northeast Syria.

Trump came to protect us. But the day someone came to hit us, he pulled out.
Mikhael Yousef Issa, a Christian in Syria

"Trump came to protect us. But the day someone came to hit us, he pulled out," said the baby's grandfather, Mikhael Yousef Issa. "It's a betrayal for the whole area, not just for Christians. What affects you, affects me. The bullets are falling upon us all."

The 65-year-old with a white mustache gave us cake and Coca Cola and invited us to stay at his house, even "for one year." This hospitality is not unusual. Thousands of Syrians who have fled the fighting are sleeping at relatives' homes away from the front lines.

We stopped at a tobacco shop. The owner had a faded tattoo of a girl's face and the word "love" in English on his forearm. He was chain-smoking with his friends and shouting at the television. The news showed stretchers and bloodied Syrian Kurds in a town about three hours away.

"We're watching in order to know when to escape," he said. Then he asked us: You're journalists, you tell me, when should we leave?

We wondered where he could even go. The Iraqi border is closed to most refugees, and his town is one of the quietest in the area.

Journalists huddled around a TV at our hotel when the news broke. Alliances on the ground suddenly shifted. The Kurdish forces invited the Syrian regime to recapture the area. The Syrian military announced it would retake the entire length of the country's border with Turkey, which we could all see from our hotel windows.

Grandfather Issam kisses his grandson Rayan goodbye before the 4-year-old left to enter Iraq. Issam did not have papers to cross. "Separation has killed the people. It's destroyed a generation. War is without a purpose," Issam said, crying. 

They said they preferred President Assad, though his regime has limited the Kurds' rights, to their bigger rivals, Turkey and its Syrian Arab mercenaries, whom Kurds said they fear will kill or expel them. But a 19-year-old barber said he was afraid of being drafted into the regime's army and wondered if he will have to flee.

Regime forces were quickly advancing toward towns in the area, and there were rumors they would be taking over the border crossing with Iraq. We had entered Syria with permission from Kurdish authorities, not the Syrian regime. None of us wanted to end up in a Damascus prison. At 12:41 p.m., a colleague told us he heard the regime would take charge of the border at 3 p.m.

Hamoudi rushed us to the border, only slowing for a gaggle of geese crossing the road. Empty vans were driving in the opposite direction after delivering international aid workers to the border. For days, aid workers had been burning their documents in steel bins, anticipating the return of regime forces and destroying evidence of who had been in Syria.

We shared the ride to the border crossing with a Swedish radio correspondent, Cecilia Uddén, who has covered the region for years. She reminisced about the Syrians she has interviewed over the years, such as a female judge presiding over ISIS trials. "It's awful to be leaving people behind," she said.

At the border, a shuttle bus came to take us back over the rickety bridge to the Kurdistan region of Iraq. As we were boarding, a 4-year-old boy on the bus kissed his grandfather goodbye through the window.

Separation has killed the people. It's destroyed a generation. War is without a purpose.
Issam, a Syrian whose relatives were fleeing to Iraq
"Grandpa, come on the bus with us. Why aren't you coming with us?" the young boy, Rayan, asked.

His grandfather, who gave his name as Issam, didn't have the Iraqi residency papers needed to cross.

"I'm going to miss you so much," Rayan said. "Grandpa, we will talk on video chat every day, OK?"

"Separation. Separation. Separation has killed the people. It's destroyed a generation. War is without a purpose," Issam told us, crying.

His grandson got off the bus and tugged at his grandfather's shirt. "I'll meet you later," Issam said.

Then Issam told us he didn't know when he would.

October 17, 2019

Why Are The Turks Trying to Anhilate The Kurds and Who Are They?

Image result for kurds killed by turks in history
 Kurds children trying to escape Syria as the U.S. runs out and before the Turks attack

Why did Turkey invade? Why did America leave? How did the Kurds gain so much land? We answer 10 key questions about the Turkish invasion of northern Syria. 


The Turkish invasion of Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria has complicated an already chaotic war.

What began eight years ago as a series of nonviolent protests against the Syrian government morphed into an international conflict, between dozens of local factions, the Islamic State and several foreign countries.

Now, an American ally is attacking a group that fought side by side with American troops for years — and much of the world is reeling from the war’s sudden turn. 

Let’s walk through the details of how the Kurds came to be in the center of a dizzying conflict.

This bakery in Kobani, Syria, had an image of the leader of the Kurdish Workers’ Party.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times

How many Kurds are there in Syria?

Kurds are the largest ethnic minority in Syria, making up between 5 and 10 percent of the Syrian population of 21 million in 2011. They live mostly in the north of the country, close to the border with Turkey, alongside Arabs and other ethnic groups. There are also large Kurdish populations in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, but there is no country with a Kurdish majority.

How did Syrian Kurds become involved in the war?

As peaceful demonstrations against President Bashar al-Assad descended into an armed civil war in 2011 and 2012, various factions vied for control of Syria. These included pro-government militias, rebels fighting for a more democratic state, Islamist extremists, and militias from ethnic and religious minorities seeking to protect their areas from attack.

Among them were several Kurdish militias, the strongest of which was the People’s Protection Units, known by its Kurdish initials, the Y.P.G.

How did America become involved in the war?

For several years, the Obama administration resisted calls to play a direct role in the Syrian war, preferring instead to provide funding and training for some rebel groups.

But President Barack Obama changed his mind as the Islamic State took advantage of the chaos of the war to capture vast swaths of Syrian and Iraqi territory.
In 2014, the United States joined an international coalition against the militants, conducting airstrikes and later building military bases on Syrian territory to assist ground operations against ISIS.

Trump Says the Kurds ‘Didn’t Help’ at Normandy. Here’s the History. 

Kurdish fighters in Tel Tamer, Syria, in 2015, near confiscated and destroyed tanks used by Islamic State fighters.

Kurdish fighters in Tel Tamer, Syria, in 2015, near confiscated and destroyed tanks used by Islamic State fighters.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
How did this Kurdish militia become an American ally?

As Islamic State fighters swept across Syria, the People’s Protection Units emerged as one of the few Syrian armed groups consistently able to take on the extremists. When the international coalition, led by the United States, sought local partners to contain the militants, they saw the Kurdish militia as the safest option.

Why do Syrian Kurds control so much land?

As the Kurdish militia gradually forced ISIS out of northern Syria — losing an estimated 11,000 troops in the process — it assumed governance of the land it captured. The militia eventually took control of about a quarter of the Syrian landmass, including most of the border with Turkey and areas mostly populated by Arabs and other ethnic groups. 
Residents of Akcakale, in southern Turkey, gathered on Sunday in front of a building reportedly hit by a rocket fired from the Syrian side.

Residents of Akcakale, in southern Turkey, gathered on Sunday in front of a building reportedly hit by a rocket fired from the Syrian side.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
Why does Turkey want to oust them from the area?

The militia is an offshoot of a Kurdish guerrilla group known as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party that has waged a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey. Turkey and the United States consider it to be a terrorist organization. 

Turkey sees Kurdish control of an area so close to its border as a major security threat, and fears that the area could become a haven for dissidents fleeing Turkey — or a springboard for insurgents plotting attacks on Turkish territory.

Turkish hostility to Kurdish groups put the United States in a bind: one American ally, Turkey, a NATO member and a fellow adversary of the Syrian government, was eager to crush another American ally, the Kurdish militia that fought on the front lines against ISIS.

How did the United States try to solve this problem?

The Obama administration tried to play down the militia’s connections to guerrillas in Turkey, encouraging the group to change its name and enlist more non-Kurdish fighters. The group is now called the Syrian Democratic Forces, and about 40 percent of its fighters are Arab or from other ethnic backgrounds, according to a 2016 estimate by American officials.

American forces also began to act as de facto peacekeepers, conducting patrols of the Turkish border, first on their own, and then in tandem with Turkish troops.

In recent months, the United States persuaded the Kurdish authorities to withdraw forces from the border and dismantle a series of defensive fortifications, as a show of goodwill to Turkey.

American troops near Manbij, Syria, last year.

American troops near Manbij, Syria, last year.CreditMauricio Lima for The New York Times
Why did American policy suddenly shift?

President Trump has long wanted to withdraw American forces from Syria, saying that the United States must avoid “endless wars.” He first ordered a withdrawal in December, but suspended the plan after his defense secretary, Jim Mattis, resigned in protest. 

American troops seemed to be in Syria for the long haul, with American commanders assuring their Kurdish counterparts that they would be able to keep the peace in northern Syria for the foreseeable future.

But then Mr. Trump suddenly changed his mind again on Oct. 6 during a phone call with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. Then he ordered American troops to leave the border area.

That gave Turkey open access to Kurdish territory, and a force consisting of Turkish troops and their Syrian Arab proxies began an invasion on Oct. 9.

Have American troops completely left the area?

Not entirely.

Initially, American troops withdrew from a relatively small part of the Turkish-Syrian border, redeploying to American outposts in other parts of Kurdish-held Syria.

But amid the chaos of the invasion, in which American troops were almost shelled by accident, the Pentagon has now ordered a complete withdrawal from northern Syria. The retreat will most likely take several days.

A small American base in southern Syria will remain for now.

The Trump administration has threatened to impose economic sanctions on Turkey for its attacks on the Kurds, and on Monday President Trump said that he was halting trade negotiations with Turkey and doubling tariffs on imports of Turkish steel. 

Who benefits from Mr. Trump’s decision?

The immediate winners were Turkey and its Syrian Arab proxies, who had captured over 75 square miles of previously Kurdish-held territory by the end of the weekend.

The Islamic State might also profit from the instability since Kurdish-led fighters no longer have the manpower to root out remaining militant cells or to guard roughly 11,000 captured ISIS fighters detained on Kurdish-held territory. The Kurds also operate more than a dozen camps for displaced families, in all holding tens of thousands of people, many of them the wives and children of Islamic State fighters.

The Syrian government is another beneficiary: On Sunday, the Kurdish authorities allowed Syrian troops to return to large parts of northern Syria in which they had no presence for more than half a decade.

Officially, the Syrian Army will just assist the Kurds in their defense of the area, with civilian life still managed by the Kurdish-led administration. But many fear that eventually the Assad regime, and its feared security forces, will take back control.

Russia and Iran, Mr. al-Assad’s main international protectors, are the other winners.

America’s withdrawal from northern Syria allows the two countries to expand their influence in the region. In particular, Russia has emerged as the main power broker in negotiations between the Kurds, Mr. al-Assad and the Turkish government.

Featured Posts

U.K. PM Boris Johnson Moved to Intensive Care as Condition Worsens

  Dave Lawler Axios U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been taken to the intensive care unit of St. Thoma...