Tag Archives: Kurds

The Darker Side of the Western Enthusiasm for “The Kurds”

A version of this article was published in The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 24 November 2019

Solider from the Syrian regime holds up a portrait of Bashar al-Asad and a Syrian national flag, another stands by the Kurdish YPG/PKK flag, in Kobani, 18 October 2019. (AFP)

Mustafa Bali, head of the press office for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the coalition partner against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, sent a tweet on November 14 showing Turkey’s Arab proxies engaged in “ISIS chants.” By this, he meant the takbir, “God is Great,” an expression used by Muslims every day. When criticised, Bali doubled down and blocked many critics. This was a microcosm of one of the darker threads in an SDF messaging strategy that is among the most effective propaganda campaigns on record. Continue reading

The Rearrangement of Northeastern Syria and Signs of Rifts in the PKK

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 18 November 2019

“SDF commander “General Mazlum Kobani” (the PKK executive official Ferhat Abdi Shahin) being interviewed by AFP in Hasaka city, 24 January 2019 [image source]

Even by the standards of Syria’s complicated war, October 2019 was a tumultuous month. The contradictions inherent in the U.S. effort to conduct a counter-terrorism war against the Islamic State (IS) divorced from the realities of the underlying conflict erupted into view. Continue reading

The PKK and Russia

By Oved Lobel on 18 November 2019

PKK at a terrorist training camp in the Asad regime-held Bekaa Valley of Lebanon, 1991 [source]

My friend Oved Lobel, a researcher focused on Russia’s role in the Middle East (among other things), found several interviews the Russian media did with Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leaders, one with the leader himself Abdullah Ocalan, talking about, inter alia, the group’s relationship with Moscow. He very helpfully translated them and with his permission they are published below.

The broad outline of the PKK’s relationship with the Soviet Union—and then the Russian Federation—is fairly clear. After the PKK was founded in Turkey in the late 1970s by Ocalan, it was evicted from the country during the 1980 military coup. The PKK moved to Syria, where Ocalan was already based, having fled Turkey in June 1979. From there, the PKK moved into the Bekaa area of Lebanon, at that time controlled by the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Asad, and the Soviets acted through Asad, as they so often did in dealing with terrorist groups, to build the PKK into a fighting force that was then unleashed in 1984 on Turkey, a frontline NATO state in the Cold War. Continue reading

Obama Made America’s Collapse in the Middle East Inevitable

A version of this article was published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 12 October 2019

Turkish Armed Forces heading towards the border with Syria, 8 October 2019 // BULENT KILIC / AFP

The beginning of Turkey’s third incursion into Syria on Wednesday, this time dubbed Operation PEACE SPRING and aimed at the areas east of the Euphrates River, is the culmination of an American policy started under Barack Obama that has been continued by Donald Trump. That it is inevitable makes it no less tragic for the innocents caught up in this mess. It does mean that the emotive posturing on social media, and attempts by Obama era officials to cast the blame for the Syria catastrophe onto Trump, are more-than-usually grotesque. Continue reading

Collision or Collusion for Turkey and America in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 1 October 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the opening ceremony of the NATO Summit in Brussels, July 2018 // Getty Images

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said earlier in September that he would discuss the problems between Turkey and the United States when he met with the U.S. President Donald Trump on September 25, as part of his trip to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. But neither side has revealed what was discussed and if anything was resolved. Continue reading

Turkey Balancing Between America and Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 July 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 29 June 2019 [image source]

The delivery of the first parts of the Russian S-400 anti-missile missile system to Turkey on 12 July has brought the crisis in the Turkish-American relations to a head. This long-simmering problem is intertwined with America’s and Turkey’s policies in Syria, specifically where the latter is responsive to the former, which has resulted in as serious rift within NATO and exposed Turkey to pressure from the Russian government. Continue reading

Ruslan Asainov: An American Islamic State Jihadist

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 20 July 2019

Sketch of Ruslan Asainov // Image credit: Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

In the Eastern District of New York, on 19 July, a criminal complaint was unsealed against Ruslan Maratovich Asainov, described in the press release as a “naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kazakhstan”. According to the release, Asainov is to be charged with providing and attempting to provide “material support, including training, services, and personnel” to a terrorist group, namely the Islamic State (IS), which he joined in 2013 and rose through the ranks to become an emir. Asainov was captured by the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), the Coalition’s anti-IS Kurdish partner force, and handed over to the FBI, before being returned to America this month.  The maximum penalty for these charges is twenty years imprisonment, and it is likely the U.S. government will be seeking additional charges in the indictment. The case raises an interesting question over the gaps in knowledge about IS. Continue reading