The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turkey-based Kurdish Marxist-nationalist insurgent group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Britain, the United States, NATO, and Turkey, created a new foreign fighter unit in Syria on 31 March. In Syria, the PKK uses the name People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the new organization, mostly composed of Europeans, is called the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF). In addition to underlining some interesting points about the PKK and Western strategy in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), the IRPGF also underlines the different approach the West has taken to foreign fighters flowing to various groups during the Syrian war. Continue reading →
Having written extensively about the authoritarian structure in the areas run by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in northern Syria, and the problems of media, local and Western, in covering this, it was very interesting to see a report in The Wall Street Journal underlining some of these points.
The Journal notes that the PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have engaged in a ruthless consolidation of power within a single party, despite claims to be governing in a democratic way. This has included: heavy pressure on all non-pro-PYD media via various Soviet-style accusations of subversion; demographic engineering by a refusal to allow Arab inhabitants to return to homes or actively expelling them; forced conscription, including of children; the imposition of an ideological curriculum in schools; and the suppression and/or expulsion of all opposition. Continue reading →
Polat Can, 2014, head of the YPG’s information centre (source)
Over the last twenty-four hours, as fighting has escalated between Turkey and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the armed wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in northern Syria, an YPG/PYD operative has taken to Twitter to protest. Polat Can is the YPG’s representative to the American-led international coalition ranged against the Islamic State (IS), and his missives have sought to inform the coalition who and what terrorism is, which can be broadly summarized as: the Turkish government. Can himself, however, might easily be considered a terrorist since he is an allegedly-former member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a registered terrorist organization by the United States, European Union, and Turkey. Continue reading →
Turkey concluded its biggest investigation to date into Islamic State (IS) operatives on its territory on Friday, and blacklisted sixty-seven people. This provides a good moment to review what Turkey’s role has been in the rise of IS, especially amid the escalating accusations from Russia that Turkey is significantly responsible for financing IS. The reality is that while Turkish policy has, by commission and omission, made IS stronger than it would otherwise have been, so has Russia’s policy—and Russia’s policy was far more cynical than Turkey’s, deliberately intended empower extremists to discredit the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad. Turkey’s focus on bringing down Assad and Ankara’s fear of Kurdish autonomy led it into these policies and now—having seemingly found the will to act to uproot IS’s infrastructure on Turkish territory—there is the problem of actually doing so, when IS can (and has) struck inside Turkey. The concerns about these external funding mechanisms for IS, while doubtless important, obscure the larger problem: IS’s revenue is overwhelmingly drawn from the areas it controls and only removing those areas of control can deny IS its funds. Continue reading →
Periodically, since the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi, there appears a series of articles, couched in tones from tentative to vehement, suggesting that if NATO had stayed out and allowed Qaddafi to retake the rebellious city of Benghazi in March 2011 then Libya would now be stable and would not be haemorrhaging refugees.
With the onset of the refugee crisis in Europe earlier this year, and Libya providing a major transit point for those trying to get to Europe, it was inevitable that this would happen again. But it is still mistaken: instability was coming to Libya no matter what the West did, and the main problem with the intervention was that it wasn’t early enough, forceful enough, or protracted enough. Continue reading →
The Islamic Republic of Iran released five senior al-Qaeda terrorists in March, ostensibly as part of a prisoner exchange for an Iranian diplomat kidnapped in Yemen by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But the murky circumstances in which al-Qaeda’s leaders were “held” in Iran and other inconsistencies cast some doubt on this version of events, and draw attention to some old questions about Iran’s support for al-Qaeda and its affiliates and offshoots. Continue reading →
Writing about Ukraine in April, I said that if then-pending sanctions from the United States and Britain ever arrived it would be “much too little, much too late.” Those sanctions did arrive, but I still stand by this judgment.
There has been much gloating in the last few weeks about the damage the sanctions have done to the value of the ruble, including a rather strange episode when President Obama adopted the third person to deny that he had been “rolled” by Vladimir Putin, and to take credit for the “financial crisis” Putin was now faced with.
The damage is real enough. There had been a joke going around about the ruble, the oil price, and Vladimir Putin hitting 63 next year. While the ruble is not quite there yet—it has lost a fifth of its value in the last three months and is trading at just over fifty to the dollar (it had been thirty in the spring)—the price of oil has fallen below this. The inflation rate in Russia is now above nine percent, and the Putin government has itself announced that the economy will retract by close to one percent next year.
The problem is that for the Kremlin, politics comes before economics, and calculations on that front do not at all lead in the direction of de-escalation. Continue reading →