Arab leadership disputes claims of YPG oppression of locals

This account is now being called into dispute by local Arab leaders. The original affidavit has been translated from Arabic to English.

Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) take part in a military parade as they celebrate victory over the Islamic state, in Qamishli, Syria March 28, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)
Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) take part in a military parade as they celebrate victory over the Islamic state, in Qamishli, Syria March 28, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/RODI SAID)
"The Kurds are very happy, Turkey is very happy, the United States is very happy. And you know what? Civilization is very happy,” stated US President Donald Trump, thanking Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan on what he (but not Erdogan) termed a “ceasefire agreement,” a five-day cessation of hostilities with the ultimate goal of evicting Kurds within 120 days from the areas in northeastern Syria pursued by the Turkish military, and allowing Erdogan to repopulate these areas with Sunni Arab refugees and Turkish-backed militias. 
In reality, the Kurds are far from happy – all of them. Iranian, and Iraqi Kurds and Kurds in Europe all stand in solidarity with their Syrian brethren. The autonomous enclaves built up by the Kurds over the last six years are coming to an end. Despite Erdogan’s claims that Kurdish autonomy presents a security threat to Turkey, no material evidence of such a threat has been presented. Turkey’s own stated goals defy these claims. Rather than merely demand the reorganization of the Kurdish security apparatus, the building of a security fence, and the disarmament of the YPG, and perhaps additional international peacekeeping apparatus in the area that would monitor against any potential illicit activity, Erdogan appears to have shelled indiscriminately both YPG and civilian populations. This has led to many civilian deaths and injuries. He, furthermore, is pushing for the eviction of the civilian population, which even under Erdogan’s own interpretation of events would present no danger to Turkey.
However, Erdogan, since the breaking of the peace talks with PKK inside Turkey, has worked hard to systematically portray all Kurds residing in Turkey as “PKK,” and label all harsh and oppressive measures against civilian populations as “operations against PKK.” Allegations of gross human rights abuses against Kurdish civilians and alleged fighters alike have not been thoroughly investigated by European or international human rights organizations, courts or the UN. For instance, in 2016, in the course of an alleged counterterrorism operation in Cizre, Erdogan’s army was allegedly responsible for the burning alive of 150 Kurds, including civilians. Those claims were never investigated and no one was held accountable for any violations.
Part of the reason is that international observers and journalists have been made decidedly unwelcome in Turkey, whereas many of the local journalists critical of the government have found themselves fired, behind bars, or in many cases, assassinated. Operations in Syria appear to advance Erdogan’s unstated goals in creating fear among the Turkish Kurdish population and promoting social divisions that will prevent them from rising up as a block. The Kurdish-backed HDP Party, for instance, is alleged to have been infiltrated with government officials; many of its leaders have been disempowered, stripped of immunity, and even thrown into prisons across the country.

EPISODES OF Kurdish civilians accused of being affiliated with PKK being tortured, including teenagers, have disseminated over social media networks, but no major media outlet has shown interest in investigating these stories. Erdogan’s party line has been to equate the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria backed by the United States with the Turkish political organization PKK, which is listed as terrorist in Turkey and, by request, from Turkish government, has not been removed from the US terrorist list. Backers of a strong alliance with Turkey have adopted this line uncritically without differentiating between the political leadership of the two organizations, no less the roles the YPG element of the SDF has played in Syria. Part of the fear-mongering on the account of these organization has been to discredit them by accusing them of Marxism-Leninism, without evidence.
Interestingly enough, “Kurds” as a society and the YPG, the military organization, have been largely equated in the latest discussion about the future of Syria. Adding to the seeming confusion is the turnaround by non-YPG Kurdish parties in Syria, such as the National Democratic Congress, and the Iraqi KRG-affiliated Peshmerga forces, which have had longstanding tensions and political differences with both the YPG and PKK. However, all of these different groups recognized that Erdogan’s “Operation Peace Spring” has affected Kurdish civilians just as much as it has affected the fighters. The claims that the YPG is a terrorist organization that is a threat to Turkey or that is planning terrorist attacks have been unsubstantiated, whatever the political differences among the various Kurdish groups, parties and organizations.
Widespread Kurdish support for SDF in light of the current developments shows that contrary to the claims by Erdogan apologists and isolationists, whatever the radical leftist past of the PKK elements in the regions, and whatever past affiliations with Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, the organizations have moved away from their origins and became a wide umbrella organization for all Kurds concerned about defending their rights against undemocratic and lawless actions by Erdogan’s government. While there is crossover and intermingling between the YPG and PKK, these are not identical organizations, and equating them is done with the deliberate purpose of further obfuscation rather than clarity.
Even more interesting is that Erdogan is making these claims about “YPG” (referencing, in fact, all Kurds) while there is a body of evidence pointing to his trade relationship with ISIS, his willingness to hire ex-ISIS fighters and other former members of violent organizations, and substantiated accounts of ISIS members finding cover in hotels in Turkey. Erdogan has plainly invited the heads of the Muslim Brotherhood, listed as a terrorist organization in a number of Middle Eastern and North African states, to reside in Turkey. None of that, however, has been thoroughly investigated or reported upon, and certainly not within the latest context.

ERDOGAN HAS had a relationship with ISIS. He has been known to back or fund extreme ideological Islamist campaigns. He has supported organizations like the violent Sunni “Hezbollah” group (no relations to the Lebanon-based Iranian proxy). He has operated mosques in Europe as recruitment drives for Turkish intelligence, and has armed Turkish and Islamist Kurdish gangs in Germany and other European countries. In light of these actions, Erdogan’s concerns for Turkey’s national security appear dubious at best.
It is increasingly dubious that the current agreement has been spontaneous rather than pre-planned. Erdogan’s approach to eliminate effective Kurdish autonomy in Syria has been marked by careful incrementalism, a two-steps-forward, one-step-back approach. Before invading and taking over Afrin and purging the local Kurdish and minority residents, Erdogan made claims about incursions into Manbij. When he settled for a relatively limited, albeit strategic area, having tested waters of the Western commitment to the status quo, the foreign policy establishment largely dismissed his goals.
With the new operation, seemingly limited in goals and duration, Erdogan, in fact got what he wanted in terms of territorial reclamation and public legitimacy. He has further erased the US red line concerning the Middle East and acceptable human rights violations. Ethnic cleansing of Kurds and minorities at the time was largely ignored by the media, although Amnesty International did publish a report claiming that YPG allegedly oppressed and abused Arab locals. The report was based on anonymous accounts that claimed ethnic cleansing, however, these accounts were likewise never fully investigated by major media or by Amnesty itself. Rather, they were used by critics of the US strategy in Syria to demonize Kurds as a whole and to delegitimize the US alliance with the SDF.
That strategy has worked brilliantly in subverting the narrative regarding any US obligations to the SDF in light of Trump’s seemingly sudden and uncoordinated withdrawal of US troops from the area. But was it uncoordinated with Erdogan, Assad and Putin, all of whom would have had to have been coordinating together given that Erdogan’s entrance into Afrin was essentially green-lighted by the other two, and given that the pushback against Operation Peace Spring has been largely absent from Russia? Russia, along with the US, sank the initial UN Security Council resolution condemning the invasion.
The so-called ceasefire is already a matter of dispute between the US and Turkey. Trump referred to the agreement as a “ceasefire.” Turkey explicitly denied it. In substance, this agreement amounts to little more than a set of conditions of surrender for the Kurds who were given 120 days to leave their homes, without ever being consulted or offered anything exchange. There has not been any no-fly-zone established in northeastern Syria that would protect anyone remaining behind from potential future shelling by the Turkish military. That Erdogan will use this opportunity to push for further concessions from the United States concerning Syria and the Middle East is likely only a matter of time. Sanctions against Turkish officials associated with the human rights abuse allegations by the Kurds have been lifted without any quid pro quo.
Abuses by Turkish-backed forces and more recent allegations of the use of napalm and phosphorus against the Kurdish population have likewise not been even mentioned during the conclusion of this agreement, much less investigated or sanctioned. However, what’s at least as bad is that pro-Erdogan propaganda managed to attack the image and character of Kurds equating them with terrorists and violent oppressors of the locals, without ever substantiating these allegations.
This attack on public sympathy was a calculated move to divide an already polarized Western electorate and to ensure the rallying of the troops around Trump in a heated election year under the pretense of moral equivalency between supposedly equally reprehensible and treacherous parties in the region.
This account is now being called into dispute by local Arab leaders. The original affidavit has been translated from Arabic to English:
“To everyone who is interested:
In recent days, there have been allegations attributed to Syrian Kurds that they are pursuing terrorism against the Arabs in Syria, and that they are killing and abandoning the Sunnis in Syria.
In view of the voice of truth and conscience, as conscious leaders of Syria, far from being biased by any party to the conflict, we affirm that these accusations are false and are nothing but a slander against the people of the Kurdish fabric [sic] in Syria.
We witness that our Kurdish brothers fought valiantly next to the Sunni, Christian and Druze for freedom and democracy in Syria, and achieved great victories in the face of ISIS terrorism that threatened Syrian cohesion....
Long may you and our people be united.
Respectfully,”
The signers asked for their names to be left out of the publication for fear of reprisals by Erdogan and others. However, the original statement and the translation with all the names has been submitted to the US State Department and to relevant members of Congress. It represents credible sources with the authority to speak on behalf of the relevant Arab populations in question.
The American public, its media and officials, should investigate gross human rights violations and understand the reality on the ground in formulating a coherent US foreign policy. This should be done before going along with self-serving authoritarian leaders with a long record of ignoring democratic processes, associating with international terrorist organizations, and mistreating their own citizens with impunity.