Archive for the ‘Erdoan and Kurds’ category

British woman killed fighting Turkish forces in Afrin

March 20, 2018

Matt Blake Mon 19 Mar 2018 02.00 EDT via The Guardian

Source Link: British woman killed fighting Turkish forces in Afrin

{Bravery comes in many forms. – LS}

Anna Campbell believed to be the first British woman to die alongside Kurdish forces in Syria

A British woman fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Afrin, northern Syria, has been killed, her Kurdish commanders have said.

Anna Campbell, from Lewes, East Sussex, was volunteering with the US-backed Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) – the all-female affiliate army of the People’s Protection Units (YPG) – in the besieged city of Afrin when the convoy she was travelling in was struck by a Turkish missile on 16 March.

Sources say the 26-year-old initially travelled to Syria to join the Kurdish struggle against Islamic State, but begged her Kurdish commanders to send her to the Afrin front after Turkey launched a ground and air offensive to oust Kurdish forces from its borderlands in January.

“They refused at first, but she was adamant, and even dyed her blonde hair black so as to appear less conspicuous as a westerner,” a YPJ source told the Guardian.

“Finally they gave in and let her go.”

She is not only the first British woman killed fighting alongside Kurdish forces in Syria, but also the first Briton to die there since Turkey launched its incursion into Kurdish-held territory on 20 January.

In a statement to the Guardian on Sunday, YPJ commander and spokesperson Nesrin Abdullah said: “[Campbell’s] martyrdom is a great loss to us because with her international soul, her revolutionary spirit, which demonstrated the power of women, she expressed her will in all her actions … On behalf of the Women’s Defence Units YPJ, we express our deepest condolences to [her] family and we promise to follow the path she took up. We will represent her in the entirety of our struggles.”

Her father, Dirk Campbell, described her as a “beautiful and loving daughter” who “would go to any lengths to create the world that she believed in”.

“Anna was very idealistic, very serious, very wholehearted and wanted to create a better world. She wasn’t fighting when she died, she was engaged in a defensive action against the Turkish incursion.”

In recent months Turkey has shifted its focus from fighting Isis in Syria to preventing the YPG from establishing a foothold along its border, arguing that the YPG is linked to its own insurgent group, the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK). The US, EU and Britain, however, do not consider the YPG a terrorist group, which it has supported in its fight against Isis since 2014.

Dirk Campbell said his daughter had dedicated her life to the fight against “unjust power and privilege”.

He said she was a committed human rights and environmental campaigner who would “put herself on the line for what she believed in”.

“It seems a small thing, but I remember when she was 11, she protected a bumblebee from being tormented by other kids at school,” he recalled. “She did it with such strength of will that they ridiculed her. But she didn’t care. She was absolutely single-minded when it came to what she believed in, and she believed what Turkey is doing is wrong.”

He said his daughter’s passion for campaigning was inspired by her mother, Adrienne, who was well-known on the south of England’s activism scene and died of breast cancer five years ago. “Anna was a credit to her mum, my wife, and was carrying on a lot of the kind of work that she was doing,” he added.

Campbell told her father of her plans to travel to northern Syria last May after she heard about the grassroots feminist and socialist revolution that has swept Rojava (the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria and heartland of the YPG/J) and inspired the Kurds’ fight against Isis.

“I didn’t try to stop her,” Mr Campbell said. “Because I knew, once she had decided to do something, she was unstoppable. That’s why she went to Rojava: to help build a world of equality and democracy where everyone has a right to representation. When she told me she was going I joked: ‘It’s been nice knowing you.’ I just knew it might be the last time I’d see her.”

Upon arrival in Rojava, Campbell completed the YPJ’s mandatory month-long military training course, in which new recruits learn basic Kurdish, weaponry and battlefield tactics on top of a crash course in the egalitarian and feminist ideology of the YPG/J, and was assigned to an infantry division, comprising a mix of Kurdish and international fighters. There she was given the nom-de-guerre Helîn Qerecox and sent to the front.

YPJ sources said she spent her first months in the country fighting in Deir ez-Zor, Isis’s last major stronghold and scene of the jihadist group’s bitter last stand. But with Isis now on the brink of defeat, foreign fighters within Kurdish ranks have faced a choice: return home or remain in Syria to help the YPG repel Turkey’s attack.

“After the initial attacks on Afrin, comrade Helîn insisted on joining the operation to defend Afrin,” said Abdullah. “Before leaving, she had already received her military training, and, although we wanted to protect her and did not agree with her decision … she incessantly insisted on her wish to leave for Afrin. She even gave us a condition: ‘Either I will go home and abandon the life as a revolutionary or you send me to Afrin. But I would never leave the revolution, so I will go to Afrin’.”

She added: “For us, as the YPJ, comrade Helîn will always be a symbol as a pioneering internationalist woman. We will live up to her hope and beliefs. We will forever pursue her aim to struggle for women, for oppressed communities.”

Mark Campbell, activist and co-chair of the Kurdistan Solidarity Campaign, added: “Anna, by all accounts, was taken deep into the heart of the Kurdish people as she stood side by side with them in their darkest hour. Our thoughts and condolences are with Anna’s family and friends as this time.”

Campbell is believed to be the eighth British citizen killed while serving with Kurdish forces in Syria.

Red Lines in Syria

July 19, 2017

Red Lines in Syria, Front Page MagazineKenneth R. Timmerman, July 19, 2017

Suleymania, Iraq – With Saturday’s bombing of Afrin, a town controlled by America’s Kurdish allies in northern Syria, Turkey appears to have crossed a line.

Turkish artillery pounded the Ashrafiyeh neighborhood near the city center as well as surrounding villages. Reports from the region said the Turkish attack killed five civilians, including an entire family that was buried alive in their own home, and damaged dozens of homes.

“This is considered the first targeting of the city since the start of Turkish preparations” to expand military operations in Northwest Syria last month, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Turkish attacks were not directed against ISIS or against any other Islamist group. The Turks targeted Afrin because it has become a key political hub for the Democratic Union Party of Syria, the YPD, which Turkey accuses of being part of the PKK.

I spoke with Asya Abdallah Osman, the co-president of the YPD, on the sidelines of a conference both of us were attending in Iraqi Kurdistan. She was visibly shaken when she called home and learned details about the civilian casualties in Afrin.

“We have been fighting [ISIS] because we as women do not want to be subjected to their inhumanity. But we need your help,” she said, meaning the United States. “We need no other. This is war and people are dying. It won’t be resolved by politics, only by hard power.”

She swept aside the Turkish allegations that the regional government of the YPD, and its associated militia, known as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), were controlled by the PKK, or that the PKK was using YPD territory to launch attacks into Turkey.

“We are an independent political party that belongs to Syria and to the Kurds. If the PKK has come to Syria, it’s because Turkey has forced them to come,” she said.

Turkey has long accused the Kurdish Workers Party, or PKK, or fighting a terrorist war against it, but also has been willing to negotiate with PKK leaders when it felt it could reach a deal to curtail the violence.

After Turkey violated a 2013 truce negotiated in Oslo that called for the PKK to remove its fighters from Turkey into northern Iraq, the PKK relocated remaining fighters into the Kurdish areas in Syria, known as Rojava.

Like most Kurds, Ms. Osman believes Turkey and its allies in the region do not want to see a successful democratic self-governing region in northern Syria, because it would encourage their own Kurds to seek greater autonomy.

“They accuse us of not being democratic, but we have allowed all political and ethnic groups to have representatives in the regional government. Our project is for all of Syria, not just Kurds,” she told me.

Ms. Osman traveled to Northern Iraq in a group of 65 Syrian Kurdish activists, representing nearly twenty political groups.

Normally, they would have entered Iraq via a pontoon bridge over the Tigris River at Semalka, in an area that has escaped the current fighting.

But the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq closed the border recently, forcing the Syrian pro-democracy delegates to make a dangerous 16-hour trek by foot across the only other border crossing into Iraq near Mount Sinjar, which is controlled by Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

“There is no Kurdish Regional Government,” Ms. Osman said dismissively. “There is only the KDP,” the Kurdish Democratic Party, dominated by President Massoud Barzani and his family.

She and other Kurdish activists at the weekend conference believe that Turkey pressured the Barzanis to close the Semalka border crossing in order to further isolate them. “Semulka is our only gate to the outside world,” she said. “When it is shut, we are closed off.”

She attributed claims that the YPD and its militia were controlled by the PKK to Turkish propaganda. “Of course, we have dialogue with other Kurdish parties, including the PKK. So do most Kurdish groups in the region. But we run our party and our administration ourselves. We elect our own officials and they take orders from no one.”

Indeed, I only learned after the conference that a member of the PKK central committee had attended the weekend event, sponsored by the Kurdistan National Congress, where three hundred delegates from Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey strategized over a future Kurdish state or confederation.

There were few references to the PKK by the speakers, and the PKK central committeeman himself never spoke. The final declaration of the conference makes no mention of the PKK.

Both President Trump and Secretary of Defense Mattis have warned Turkey not to attack America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. Turkey has blithely ignored those admonishments until now.

Less than a month after President Trump at the White House personally rejected Erdogan’s demand that the U.S. drop support for the Syrian Kurds, Turkey began moving troops to encircle Afrin, the political capital of the Syrian Kurdish region, and other Kurdish controlled areas.

After Turkey started to attack YPG positions in late June, Secretary of Defense James Mattis upped the ante by declaring that the United States might allow the Kurdish group to keep U.S. supplied weapons after the battle for Raqqa to smash ISIS was over.

Some of Erdogan’s erstwhile political allies believe he Erdogan is playing a dangerous game.

Even before the Turkish attacks on civilians over the weekend, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis, who helped found Erdogan’s ruling AKP party, counseled against attacking the Syrian Kurds.

“The best course would be to negotiate a deal with the Syrian Kurds, persuade them not to attempt to change the ethnic composition of the region, and establish – preferably in cooperation with the Syrian government – a multi-ethnic, multi-confessional democratic administration,” Yakis wrote in a column for Arab News.

That is precisely the project Ms. Osman and the YPD have been proposing.

Erdogan showed his arrogance in Washington when he calmly observed his bodyguards cross a Capitol Police barrier in May to viciously bludgeon opposition protestors with truncheons.

But by putting his forces in a position where they could potentially clash with U.S. military units assisting the YPG and the Syrian Democratic Forces, Erdogan has shown a reckless side as well.

Turkey has been warned twice. Will Afrin prove to be the third strike for Erdogan in Syria?