Every day that Afrin remains occupied is another day of suffering for those living within the region. It is saddening to hear the reports of kidnapping, murder and general disorder. How far Afrin is from safety of prior years. There are no longer local people to take care of the land. Only blood, sweat and tears remain. Olive trees now grow from blood soaked land.
Displaced Afrini residents live in scarce conditions in neighbouring Shahba canton in Tal Rifaat. Awaiting an inevitable invasion from the occupiers of the Turkish state whose desire it is to extend the occupation territory. Over a hundred thousand displaced and it is not enough to feed that violent war monger in Ankara. The new Sultan of Anatolia.
The armies of Sultan Erdogan took a region where millions of war scarred civilians sought refuge and turned it into a hellscape. Forcing those same war scarred civilians to flee once again and start over. Without home or business to provide for their loved ones. Unable to return to the area without threat of violence.
There seems to be no one that cares to stand up to Erdogan and his autocratic regime. The ones expected to are acquiescing to his demands for territory and offering up more territory under the guise of maintaining a fractured alliance. These ‘negotiations’ take the form of a proposal by the United States for a ‘safe-zone’ in Syria’s northeast. One running along Turkey’s southern border.
The United States under Trump does not currently possess a back bone. There does not appear to be anyone in Washington bold enough to act in the manner demanded by the highest office. Well Trump lampoons his critics with barrage after barrage of tweets, he cosies up to the Sultan and sends James Jeffrey to strike an appeasement deal. A deal that would trade blood for Ankara’s good graces.
Stretching from Kobani to the border crossing between Rojava and Bashur at Faysh Khabur and with a depth of five kilometres, this ‘safe zone’ would see civilians as well as Kurdish militants expelled from Turkey’s southern border. A reasonable idea to anyone with any cursory knowledge on the region but a ludicrous one to those with a proper understanding of the lives living there. There are over a million people that live in that region. That is a million plus people who will be forcefully displaced. Where will they go?
This ‘safe zone’ is nothing but a noose around the neck of the people living in the northeast. It is a death zone not a safe zone. Jeffrey is trying to convince the international community to endorse this zone and send troops to monitor it. The problem with such a plan is that disinterested parties, notably European states are not guaranteed to maintain a long term presence nor stand up to the Sultan’s armies should he decide to march them south.
The very fact that such a proposal is being made shows what era the world is in. Autocrats, whether they be moustached racist zealots to Revolutionary despots, should not be appeased. Hitler was handed Czechoslovakia through appeasement and still ended up annexing most of Europe as well as starting a world war. After most of the free world closed up that Pandora’s box, again, many nations banded together and declared, ‘never again!‘ Nearly eighty years later and you would think that ‘never again’ was declared in jest.
Since then, dictator after dictator has continued to rampage regions, creating mass violence and suffering in their wake. And, as was done in the past, someone put pandora’s box aright. One can only hope that the chaos wrought by Erdogan’s regime in Syria will be put back in its place before more suffer. I sincerely hope so or else there will be more blood.
The United States is in a precarious position. Its NATO ally Turkey for the last couple of weeks has been pressuring Washington into a tough decision: ‘People’s protection Units’ (YPG) or ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) (1). Ankara has placed enormous pressure on Washington to reconsider its support for ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) leading the Raqqa offensive, as it consists of fighting forces of the YPG, which Turkey considers an extension of a domestic “terrorist” organisation—‘The Kurdish Workers Party’ (PKK). Instead favouring FSA and ‘Turkish Armed Forces‘ (TSK) to take over the offensive, Ankara wants to push the Kurdish militia group fully out of Coalition’s efforts against ISIS (2).
Territory divide in Northern Syria. Red for SAA, Blue for FSA, Yellow for YPG, Black for ISIS.
Launching operation ‘Euphrates Shield’ in August of 2016, under the pretext of fighting ISIS in Northern Syria, TSK and FSA began a campaign to dislodge YPG from the region. Pushing first to Jarabulus and then onwards to al-Bab, TSK and FSA forces took land from ISIS—engaging in clashes with YPG as they went (3). During this time, SDF forces launched its own offensive in November—operation ‘Wrath of Euphrates’. Aiming to force ISIS from its second stronghold in Ar Raqqa, SDF strategically moved southwards and liberated large areas of land from ISIS militants(4).
Turkish Tanks heading towards FSA controlled areas in Operation Euphrates Shield.
YPJ and SDF fighters at announcement of Operation Wrath of Euphrates in November.
Plans for Raqqa froze in February, however, when Trump asked military officials to reassess—over a thirty-day period—the offensive(5). Ankara’s eyes set on Raqqa, negotiations between Washington and Ankara for FSA involvement became stagnant, as Turkey’s arrogance and stubbornness to deny compromise left its proposals for involvement dead in the water. Becoming more evident, that Ankara’s desire to extend its anti-PKK domestic policy into the realm of its foreign policy was not working in its favour(6).
Additionally, President Erdogan’s call for FSA to move onto Manbij after the capture of al-Bab, an area controlled by US-backed SDF and ‘Manbij Military Council‘ (MMC), increasingly greased Ankara’s grip of Washington(7). Leading military officials to push Turkey out of considerations for Raqqa, Ankara vows now to do what it can to take Manbij and move onto Raqqa—regardless of Washington(8). This increase in tensions in the region between Coalition forces is weighing heavy on US’ mind, as considerations over future of Raqqa’s post-ISIS state hang in the balance.
President Erdogan (Center) with AKP administration.
US Secretary of Defence, James Mattis.
Storming Western Manbij with TSK armour and troops, FSA engaged with YPG in a series of clashes south of Al Arimah region in the nearby villages of Tall Turin and Qahar(9). Well clashes on the field escalated, MMC took this time to default to Russia and negotiate a trade: In exchange for SAA governance of territory near Arimah region, MMC would have a buffer zone created between it and FSA(10, 11). During the announcement of this trade by MMC, US ‘Special Operation Forces‘ (SOF) moved into Manbij and Coalition officials quickly confirmed their commitment to SDF, as well as MMC(12).
Armoured vehicles of SOF enter Manbij.
Now that Ankara has its eyes wide shut on the Raqqa offensive, as it continues to deny negotiating with YPG and continues to believe that its FSA should lead, SDF continues its operation against ISIS. Advancing eastwards and cutting off road between Dier-ez Zor and Raqqa cities, SDF look to encircle the capital(13). Restricting blood flow to the serpent, SDF continue to wrap a noose around Raqqa and force ISIS into an ever-increasing stranglehold. By way of Pentagon providing oversight with airstrikes and armour, as well as with Washington fending off Ankara’s political bombardment, the road to Raqqa is clear(14).
SDF vehicles in eastern Raqqa.
Situation map of Raqqa offensive. Link: http://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/6-march-sdf-have-cut-the-road-between-raqqa–deirezzor-cities
However, how long this road will be clear for in this hostile political environment is uncertain. Ankara’s determination to undermine offensive seems unwavering, as TSK and FSA continue to do battle with YPG near Manbij. In this contentious atmosphere, Washington has to ask itself an important question: How far will it go to keep its alliance with Ankara? I think the answer to this question will only become known in a post-ISIS Syria, which most likely will be in the next two years. Moreover, with Turkey increasingly becoming an Islamist dictatorship, US willingness to stop “radical Islamic terrorism” will be put to the test(15). I hope for the best, but am prepared for the worst, as the US should be.
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress from the floor of the House of Representatives iin Washington, U.S., February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool
For the last nine months, Erdogan has increased crackdowns on journalists and political dissidents, especially Kurdish ones. In November alone, Erdogan arrested dozens of Kurdish MP’s and ‘Peoples’ Democratic Party’ members in Southern Turkish districts, which are predominantly Kurdish(16). This hunger for power that Erdogan displays and the evident desire to target any organisation that is remotely Kurdish or connected to PKK is frightening. Demonstrating a napoleon complex with censoring of media, Erdogan and Turkey demonstrate to the International Community exactly why no self-proclaimed free person should view it favourably.
Moreover, Erdogan’s domestic policy against fighting PKK ‘terrorists’ has extended over two nations external of Turkey and has shaped Turkey’s foreign policy. In Iraq, Ankara’s oversight extends to the ‘Kurdish Democratic Party’ (KDP) in Iraqi Kurdistan (KRG) who is headed by President Barzani(17,18). Barzani and Prime Minister Yıldırım of Turkey have increased Turkish forces to KRG, training ‘Rojava-Peshmerga’ (Roj-pesh) and sending units to Sinjar in response to PKK. Occupied by a large Yazidi population, Roj-pesh units pushed recently into the area in an attempt to scare PKK out(19).
President Barzani (left) and President Erdogan (right) in Istanbul, in late February.
Denying this imposition from Turkish forces, ‘Sinjar Resistance Units’ (YBS) and locals armed themselves in response(20). A force created in conjunction with the PKK, the YBS was Yazidis response to ISIS’ massacre of its population in Sinjar in 2014. Now threatened by a new authoritarian force, Yazidis find themselves in the middle of a tough situation. This has not been easy, given that Roj-pesh fired upon YBS and civilians now flee a new battle area(21). One only hopes the Yazidis will find a place for their own, as it seems KDP deny them that now. (Kurdish Unity is something that I wish could be, as was in the days of fighting Saddam Hussein. However, tribalism runs deep.)
A family of Yazidis leave the Sinjar area. Displaced from Clashes between Roj-Pesh and YBS.
It is important to remember principles when analysing conflict, as it can become very easy to be a megaphone for a party. One principle that has guided me through is that of taking the side of the oppressed against tyranny and injustice. ‘Take the side of the victim; aid them in their struggle’. Those seeking to do justice and protect those facing tyranny should be supported. And those who depart from this are generally not to be trusted. However, even keeping to this principle is not always easy. But you have to try.
The Battle lines are drawn.
Current Situation map of Syrian conflict, March 6th.
The word ‘Daesh’ is an Arab acronym for ‘al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham’ (داعش), which translates to the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ in English. The acronym ‘Daesh’ is the Arab equivalent to using the English acronym ‘ISIL’. They literally both are different ways of using the same label for the same Islamist organization—The Islamic State.
This need to be politically correct and not outright label the Islamic state for what they call themselves, namely ‘The Islamic State’, is just a tedious exercise in doing nothing to stop them. Politicians need to stop pussyfooting around and start naming the organization, labelling the ideology of Islamism and start acting out against it. They are, after all, on the front line in talks over this important issue—’the political fighters’, if you will.
In addition to the above, it also has to be said that people need to stop being so afraid of offending others by saying that, “Islam has something to do with ISIS”. There is a great tendency for liberal minded individuals to not want to bring offence to those Muslims they might know, as not to damage relationships with them by mentioning Islam and The Islamic State in the same breath. We have to stop being fearful, as we are doing what exactly the Islamists want us to do—remain silent. If one does not speak out against totalitarianism, then one will eventually become another oppressed victim of it. In other words, it is best to point out the serpent in the weeds before it bites you than to become a victim of its venomous fangs.
These jihadists are doing what they do because of their interpretation of Islamic scriptures—their ‘wahhabist’ interpretation. What ISIS militants want, after all, is to establish a global Islamic caliphate where Sharia Law is the law of the land. Where infidels, homosexuals and apostates are killed and people are subjugated. All in the hopes that they can one day bring an end to open society and bring about an “apocalypse”. This is not a ‘neo-conservative’ statement to make; this is a statement coming from a classical liberal. I am simply speaking from my observations of ISIS; my readings and study of Islamic scripture; my understanding of Middle Eastern history and Islamic history, as well as what is going on in Politics currently. I am also speaking from a non-religious perspective—an atheist perspective; an ‘infidel’ I am.
Time after time, these jihadists have told news outlets worldwide their motivations and have provided most atrocities they do with Hadith and Qur’anic scriptural justification. When the Paris attacks happened, for example, The Islamic State not only took pride in admitting it but they also sent out a statement that denounced the ‘crusader nations’ and their “Crusader campaign”; further promising to continue attacks on these “crusader nations”. It should be clear by now that what they are doing is a part of their Islamist ideological campaign. To deny this is to deny reality.
It is time that people realize what they are up against. These jihadists are not simply rogue individuals that can be labelled as such and thrown to the corner. These jihadists are organized ideological fighters who wish to kill for their religious ideology. Make no mistake; the events that have happened since early last year are all a part of these jihadists trying to bring about a greater ideological goal. It is time that we—people of open society—recognize that and act accordingly. Islamism needs to be crushed as an ideology and all those who follow it must be denounced for supporting it. We have to denounce both the political Islamists and the jihadists—both of which desire the same goal: A global Islamic caliphate.
Islamism is a serpent that needs to be killed, as it is biting and poisoning the conversation and stifling action. In order for us— those of us who value the continuation of open society—to stop this, we need to face the threat head on. We need to cut the head off the serpent… But How? There is no clear-cut solution, but a good start would be to fight the ideology. In order to kill the serpent, one needs to start highlighting the threat of Islamism, its relation to Islam and start fighting the ideology through education and force. Education in the form of promoting free thought, liberalism, secular humanism, reform in Islam and so on; force in the form of crushing ISIS.
This is only the start, but I hope it will help give rise to more discussion on this topic. For it is through the discussion of ideas in open society that change can come about. It is with this said that I close with the following words: Name the threat and kill the serpent.
Artwork by: ‘Thor in Hymir’s boat battling the Midgard Serpent’ by Henry Fuseli (1788)
Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson
-Islamism: The political imposition of Islamic fundamentalism upon society, as manifested by organisations such as ‘The Islamic State’, ‘Hamas’, ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’, ‘The Muslim Brotherhood’ and ‘Boko Haram’ to name a few. Individuals who support the political overthrow of a government, through either military coup or democratic elections, can be considered ‘political Islamists’. Those who wish to fight violently for their goal and those who genuinely believe it to be true; can be considered ‘jihadists’.
-Islamic Caliphate: An Islamic government based upon the doctrines from the Qur’an and Hadith.
-Wahhabism: A sub-set of Sunni Islam that interprets the Qur’an in a literalist lens.