Rojava and the Turkish-Kurdish Conflict: Cultural Genocide in Afrin and International Silence

By Noelle Iati

Noelle is an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence College

In my last post, I explained the reasons for the Turkish-Kurdish conflict and the Turkish interest in destroying the Autonomous Administration of Northern and Eastern Syria, commonly known as Rojava. In this post, I explore the gross human rights violations committed by Turkish forces and their jihadist allies pursuing a cultural genocide in Afrin, the northwesternmost region of Rojava which borders Turkey, and the international response to these violations.

    Turkey attacked the Rojava district of Afrin on January 20, 2018. After two months of fighting, Turkish forces captured Afrin city on March 23, 2018, officially concluding the “combat phase” of the operation. From the beginning of the attack, Turkish forces and their jihadist auxiliaries were accused of violating international humanitarian law protecting civilians in armed conflict. In the report from its February 25 to March 22, 2018 session, the United Nations Human Rights Council Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic highlighted potential war crimes committed by Turkish forces and their allies in Afrin, including the arbitrary killings of civilians by car bombs, landmines, and IEDs, kidnappings for ransom, pillaging of property, sexual harassment, and torture. The report also states concerns over Afrin residents’ reports of a lack of rule of law. Turkey, as an occupying power, was obligated under the Fourth Geneva Convention to do everything in its power to prevent civilians from being caught in the crossfire during the conflict, and certainly was obligated to prevent the blatant abuse of civilians in the war zone. It has also been alleged that Turkey intentionally destroyed hospitals, religious buildings, and cultural heritage sites.

    Unfortunately, the abuse did not end after Turkey captured Afrin. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Reports on Turkey and Syria, and news outlets such as Kurdistan 24 and Politurco have all alleged the continued random killings of civilians, the displacement of tens of thousands of individuals (mostly Kurdish), the seizing, looting, and destruction of property belonging to Kurdish residents, and the arbitrary arrest, detention, forcible disappearance, and torture of Kurdish civilians. Following Afrin’s capture, roadblocks and checkpoints were instituted preventing humanitarian aid from reaching affected areas, while the only humanitarian services allowed in the area at all were those registered in Turkey. Meanwhile, the same roadblocks and checkpoints prevented many from leaving the war zone to access necessary medical care. Kurdish refugees were also blocked from receiving aid at the Serdem refugee camp.

    While all of these abuses have targeted the Kurdish population of Afrin, perhaps the most telling indicators of Turkish intentions in the region have involved intentional demographic change and “Arabization” or “Turkification” of the area. Kurdish refugees returning home after the fighting in many cases found their homes occupied by Arab refugees from Eastern Ghouta or by soldiers and their families, while Turkish-backed jihadist rebel groups controlling Afrin have pushed for the forced displacement of the remaining Kurdish population. In the city of Afrin, road and place names have been changed from Kurdish to Arabic, including one square renamed after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has already appointed its own teachers and civil servants and installed Turkish-language schools and mosques. In some cases, children have been exposed to the ultra-nationalist, neo-fascist Turkish “Grey Wolves” propaganda in their schools. In April of this year, Turkey started to build a concrete wall separating Afrin from the rest of Rojava.

    Incredibly, despite extensive documentation of all of these abuses by international human rights and humanitarian organizations including the United Nations, the international community has remained mostly silent to these attacks on the peaceful and democratic Kurdish enclave. Despite Rojava’s focus on gender equality, human rights, and the democratic principles the West claims to stand on, it has utterly refused to defend Rojava from Turkey’s illegal attack, and most nations have not publicly condemned Turkey’s actions. Western media, especially the American press, has, for the most part, stayed silent on the issue has well. As President Donald Trump plans to pull American troops out of Syria entirely, Turkish-backed rebels have prepared to advance eastward toward the city of Manbij and to use the hefty advantage American withdrawal would give them to advance further east into Rojava. While President Trump has promised economic repercussions should Turkey attack Manbij and National Security Advisor John Bolton has claimed (independently of the President) that Americans would not pull out of Syria without assurances from Turkey that it would leave northern Syria to its Kurdish allies, Syrian Kurds worry about their ability to defend their home. As one of the most democratic regions in the war-torn Middle East, Kurds in Rojava wonder why the West, which claims to have gone to war in the Middle East to protect democracy for all, has refused to recognize Rojava or commit to protecting it from Turkey.

    Western military presence in the Middle East is a complex issue mired in difficult questions about capitalist imperialism. But if the West claims to support self-determination, democracy, and human rights, then it cannot continue to stay silent on the issue of Kurdish independence or the efforts of the Turkish government to destroy the Kurdish political project.

When Anger Erupts: The Conundrum of Feminist Infighting

This post is cross-posted from The Canonball Blog as part of a series they have been running on Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde. Enjoy! – Katrina

“The personal is political”: we feminists love this statement, don’t we? Belief that one’s personal circumstances are what they are because of politics was the basis for a lot of consciousness raising and activism during the Second Wave, when this statement became popularized. I’ve been thinking about it the other way around though, recently. I think it is important to consider the implications here: the political is personal, too. And sometimes the people closest to the scene where the anger Audrey wrote about earlier this week gets ignited are people who, in most other situations, we would consider an ally. I’m thinking girl-on-girl and feminist-on-feminist political anger.

Of course, there is a lot of girl on girl anger out there in the world at large. There is a reason so many people have all seen the movie Mean Girls: it talks about something that is true to life and many of our school experiences. One of my best friends is writing a paper on female beefs in hip-hop culture (Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj, anyone?). Taylor Swift writes slut shaming lyrics. These kinds of conflicts aren’t unusual to us as female identified people, or to popular culture. So what happens when it touches down in our feminist back yard?

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“Feministet Në Punë” (Feminists at Work): A Discussion of Interviews with Albanian Women in Kosovo

by Hana Kabashi

In the process of writing a Master’s thesis, what follows is a primary source analysis using the provided links. For the purpose of this step in my work, the original source was edited to focus on the interviews with various women and organizations within Kosovo taken by journalist Peter Lippman in 1998 and 1999.  I also include some of his journal entries that he wrote during his time in Kosovo.

http://balkansnet.org/quiriazi.html
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/balkans/message/325

In 1990, as Serbian nationalist rhetoric became stronger and stronger in the former Yugoslavia with Slobodan Milosevic at the helm, the autonomy granted to Kosovo in the years before was slowly stripped away.  The Serbian government’s first step was to disband the Albanian police force in Kosovo and install a force of over 2,500 Serbian police.[1] Albanians were no longer trusted to police themselves and soon a domino effect would occur.   Albanian men and women in various positions of power or authority in schools, hospitals and governmental positions resigned or were replaced by Serbian counterparts.

The Albanian men that were a part of the Assembly of Kosovo—the governing faction of Kosovo that was represented in the Yugoslavian government—continued to try to counteract the aggressive and destructive legislative moves of the pro-Serbian authority but were repeatedly out-ranked and out-maneuvered.[2] Eventually, all Albanian media sources would be suppressed.  Newspapers and broadcast systems were disbanded or taken over by Serbian workers.  As the Albanian population became increasingly subjugated, a seemingly unanimous decision amongst the population was to not trust or recognize the power of Serbia over them, at least in secret.  Many schools were closed, and those that remained open to Albanian children forced them to learn solely the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet.  Soon  a “parallel”[3] society and government would emerge in Kosovo.  Elections for an illegal, secret government were held in 1992.  Schools and classes were held in homes and other private buildings, paid for by parents and donations from Albanians in the Diaspora community.[4] In the early 1990s, the Albanian community would construct an entire society in secret, while publically trying to stay out of the Serbian government’s way. Continue reading