Peace Bloc Bulletin Issue: 1
January 1 2017
We share with you the Peace Bulletin which contains important developments on the peace agenda. In addition to the news, you will find reviews and important reports on peace, democracy and human rights for this period.
Ümit Kıvanç penned the following for the Peace Bloc:
From now on the point of debate will not be Aleppo but Idlib
During the months of March and April of 2015 something happened that led most of the observers of the Syrian civil war to think that Assad will rapidly loose territory and that the regime would collapse.
Map of the region (Ümit Kıvanç)
In June 2011 the police headquarters in Cisr al-Shugur, which is 20km. to the Turkish border, was raided by the rebels and the bodies of more than one hundred policemen were strewn to the Asi River. The city was besieged for almost four years and in the April 2015 was finally taken over by Jaish al-Fatah. Three kilometers east, In the village of Istebrak, jihadists had massacred Alawite villagers.
The jihadist coalition Jaish al-Fatah had gained considerable advantage by taking control of Cisr al-Shugur after having overrun Idlib in March. They will be able to control the greater part of Aleppo-Latakia highway and cut of the Syrian army’s ties with the Idlib countryside. They were able sustain their dominance in Aleppo for so long due to their absolute military superiority in the province of Idlib. When assistance from the Idlib to the armed groups in East Aleppo was cut off the tide began to turn in favor of the Syrian Army which had the backing of Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
Idlib turned out to be a very problematic area for the al-Assad regime. Not only due to its effects on Aleppo. For one, Al-Qaida’s Syrian arm the El-Nusra front has enough power here to declare an emirate here against the Islamic State’s caliphate. Secondly, the 80 kilometers of border that the province of Idlib has with Turkey allowed Sadia Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to easily assist any armed group and jihadi organization who was trying to topple the Damascus regime. Jaish al-Fatah was the product of just such joint project.
Indeed, following the takeover of Idlib and Cisr al-Shugur by the jihadi groups, the Syrian Foreign Ministry sent a letter to the United Nations openly incriminating Turkey. The letter stated that “the terrorist groups’ attacks on the cities of Idlib and Cisr al-Shugur were conducted by assistance of the Turkish army’s fire power and logistic support.” The Damascus government declared that they perceive this “as a direct act on Syria by Turkey.” There was no diplomatic outcome from this. The letter did have a clarifying effect.
Jaish al-Fatah, which was in part initiated by Ankara, did aim to pool together the most powerful jihadi groups in Syria. Under the active leadership of Al-Nusra (al-Qaeda), notably Ahrar al-Sham and other local and “Syrian” jihadi organizations banded together in this coalition and took Idlib.
The city of Idlib doesn’t matter to the regime nor to the Syrian economy as much Aleppo or the coastal provinces. But the province to which the city is the capital of has a big and continuing threat potential to the al-Assad regime not only by virtue of bordering Turkey. At the same time this province lies between Aleppo and Latakia. The province where the regime is strongest, Latakia, cannot directly intervene to Aleppo and the east through the shortest possible route due to the “emirate” in between, this makes life for the regime very difficult.
However, especially after Russia’s direct involvement in the war, the al-Assad regime began to employ a tactic that brings rather unpleasant possibilities to mind regarding the future of Idlib. In many parts of the country where armed groups were besieged by the Syrian army, they would first offer a cease fire and then a “safe passage” Those that accepted were pointed in the direction of Idlib. Busses were provided and they carried militants to Idlib from all across the country. We can describe what’s happening like this: The tacticians in Damascus (and Moscow), have lumped as many armed jihadis as they can to Idlib.
It’s obvious that they didn’t gather these people there to stage contests or seminars. In fact, in the final stages of the battle for Aleppo the alliance of besieged jihadi groups issued a declaration stating that they could vacate the city but that they did not want to go to Idlib and that they could go north. These demands were not met so they went to Idlib.
And henceforth joined the ranks of Jaish al-Fatah who will probably shortly face heavy bombardments. The exact number of fighters at this time is not known but it would not be surprised if it were to be pronounced as several tens of thousands.
Idlib is expected to turn into hell on earth due to heavy bombings in the near future. The fighters in this area will probably be driven north and northeast by the Russia-Iran-Hezbollah supported Syrian army. Since the Kurdish Canton of Afrin is situated due north, the flow of fighters is expected to head due northeast. Well, that northeast is Turkey!
In contrast with the possibility that al-Assad may yet get his country back, Ankara too has plans for these fighters amassed in Idlib. According to some, the government intends bring these fighters through the border, move them north inside of Turkey and after they have been chipped over Afrin reintroduce them to Syria in the areas controlled by Operation Euphrates Shield. The operation whose objective is to prevent the Kurds from conjoining their cantons can no longer be thought together with the malicious intent of meddling with Aleppo. From Ankara’s perspective, “Aleppo is gone.” It is no longer possible for Ankara to do things that would oppose Russia, and therefore Assad. The jihadists of Idlib cannot entertain any visions of Aleppo either.
Then what is Ankara to do with these jihadists who are on the run from Russia’s wrath? Will it try to have them attack the Kurds? Will al-Assad –and Putin- allow such a battle where the jihadists will suffer heavy casualties and be exhausted in order to wear down the Kurds as well and curb their enthusiasm for autonomy? Perhaps, because it will be a reciprocal exhaustion of the strongest of the opposition.
However, it is unfortunately impossible to tackle this situation solely in light of what going to happen within Syria. Because thousands of jihadists who have been sold out by Ankara in Aleppo have their fates’ tied to it and are now manipulated to further Ankara’s agenda yet again. Won’t these organizations that have numerous elements in Turkey that can move freely, who have supporters and protectors in Turkey somehow create problems for the Turkish society? We are talking about jihadists who have nothing to do but fight, jihadists who have already entered the struggle for dominance in the provinces or in various small circles, who have already reached the headquarters of each other, killed their men and stolen their weapons.
Aleppo is a historical, symbolic city whose fame transcends borders. The eyes of the world were on Aleppo and despite that, the Damascus regime, under the guidance of Russia, leveled the city and reached its objective. What is generally conducted is urban warfare with very little regard for civilian loss of life and human tragedy. It’s not difficult to imagine the kind of battle that will rage in an “emirate” area where thousands of jihadis were amassed on purpose. Probably a lot of blood will be spilled and there will be “sweeping” operations with intensive bombings. And many of Ankara’s crony jihadists will be knocking on its doors.
This is the likely outcome.
Turkey was shaken by violence in the last month of the year. The bombings in Istanbul and Kayseri and assassination of the Russian ambassador in the capital were the last pieces in the chain of war and violence that’s been plaguing the country the last two years. 60 people including Ambassador Karlov have lost their lives in these attacks alone.
The calls for “revenge” from top of the state following the Dolmabahce bombing have fueled political and social tensions.
Operations targeting HDP the next day have incarcerated almost 1000 party executives and 6 MPs have been taken into custody.
The police’s destructive bust to HDP Istanbul Provincial Organization and the racist writings they left behind on the walls were reminiscent of what was done in Cizre, Sur and other cities.
There is strong evidence to support claims of torture and strip searching of the detained.
Following the December 17 bombing in Kayseri, the government spokespeople’s attitude of pointing fingers at the opposition have led to a nationwide armed gang attacks on party buildings reminiscent of the Storm Detachment SA’s raids which were so effective in the rise of fascism in Germany.
Tens of HDP provincial and local organizational buildings were torched. In some of the cities the attackers targeted CHP buildings as well.
The use of municipal fire engines and cranes and the death by accident of one police officer during these incidents hints that these racist fascist gangs are operating with backing of and under the very noses of state institutions and civil servants.
Sadly, besides the events of September 6-7, Maras and Sivas massacres there hundreds of similar bloody plots that are engrained in our memories.
Although the government swiftly declared the killer police officer as a member of FETO immediately after the assassination of Ambassador Karlov, the shooter himself claimed he had acted on behalf of the Syrian jihadi group El Nusra (recently renamed Fatah al-Sham). Claims that he could have been caught alive but was killed on purpose increases the risk of political motives instead of uncovering the truth.
However, only a week ago, a group which included government MPs protested the developments in Aleppo in front of the Russian Embassy and the statements made to the public were in fact an invitation to such an attack.
16 soldiers have lost their lives and dozens of others have been injured near al-Bab during The Euphrates Shield operation, which we have decried since its onset because it doesn’t conform to international law.
İmmediately after that, footage of the brutal immolation of two previously captured soldiers by IS was released.
The government still hasn’t addressed the issue and increased pressures on the press and social media to not cover this story. This begs the question whether the government does in fact not want an anti IS public opinion to ferment.
We condemn the decision to suspend YOL TV broadcasts.
Free press, the voice of peace, cannot be silenced!
YOL TV, one of the dew remaining critical broadcasters is known as an Alawite outlet. Its broadcasts have been suspended by the Radio and Television Supreme Board (RTUK). This and the hundreds of detentions and imprisonments due social media posts continue to stifle freedom of expression and freedom of information.
In short, December 2016 has been a month which shown all too clearly once again that the price of wrong foreign and domestic policy keeps on rising and as always it is children of those living hand to mouth who pay this price.
As a result of all these “bloody” events and perhaps the “natural” outcome of all the hate speech, Turkey’s New Year’s Eve was also steeped in blood. After having fired hundreds of rounds at the Ortakoy club the assailant simply walked away! That not a single official has resigned as a result of this proves that no one in a position of power and responsibility is even aware of the gravity of the situation.
There was also no evidence of appreciation of the fact that the anti-Christmas rhetoric with religious undertones of the government circles before New Year’s Eve had fueled this environment. Regrettably, all we have heard from the authorities were speeches of heroism and cries of “they will not succeed” and “they will not scare us!”
Discriminatory outbursts by the authorities of the ruling party, the threat of civil war rather than calming the public, provocations of violence against Kurdish citizens even in soccer games, the detention of three of Diyarbakir city’s football team Amed Sport’s players after a match is increasing our concern for social peace.
On December 12 an F-16 fighter crashed during landing at Diyarbakir base. It was initially reported that the pilot who escaped by parachute had said “he was shot at”, these stories were later retracted. This reinforces the opinion that the facts are withheld from public opinion.
The Ministry of Finance’s statements on the budget cites a “record increases in war and security spending” for the 11-month period of the year to date. Expenditure on goods and services for security and defense in November are twice of that of the previous month. All of this reveals the reasons for the “negative 1.8% growth” of the last month.
Major developments in Syria and foreign policy:
The first article of the agreement reached in Moscow at the meeting of Foreign Ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey is as follows: “Iran, Russia and Turkey once again express their respect for the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic as a multi-religious, non-sectarian, democratic and secular state with numerous ethnic structures.” The text of the agreement was interpreted as “Turkey’s Syrian policy collapsed in Moscow”. It is our greatest desire that this development will replace the politics of war which until this date was personally pursued by Erdogan who said, “We are there to overthrow Assad!”, and that this will be step towards a peace based on respect of the wills of the Syrian peoples.
There are also nice developments in the name of peace:
Saturday Mothers, who gather every Saturday to demand to know the fate of their missing relatives and the prosecution of the perpetrators, again issued messages of peace despite all of the hate and revenge rhetoric that’s consuming the country. “We have suffered for years. Our wish for the future is peace and calm to the country and no more losses of loved ones “. Unfortunately the peaceful voice of the mourning mothers could not be heard enough through all the clutter.
The understanding that “a land needs more martyrs and veterans for it to become a homeland” was countered in the clearest way on December 13 by Hidayet Tuksal: “We don’t want more heroism, we don’t want more martyrs, we want peace!” The understanding that imposes death instead of life, war instead of peace, deadlock and oppression instead freedom and equality and manipulates religious sentiment reveals itself at the essence of every dictatorial regime. But is not the peaceful, creative and free coexistence of people living on a patch of land that makes it homeland?
Visiting Demirtas and Zeydan
As the Peace Bloc, we visited HDP Co-Chairman S. Demirtas and Hakkari MP Abdullah Zeydan, who are detained in Edirne F Type Prison. Our premise is that “violence will prevail in an environment where the speakers of the language of peace are stifled” On our way we were stopped thrice by the police and gendarmerie underwent general information gathering (GBT) screenings and ID checks, prevented from even coming close to the jail house and issuing a statement to the press. Despite all this we still succeeded in getting our message across. Two of our lawyers met with Mr. Demirtas, in contravention to the law the meeting was accompanied and recorded by the police. Nonetheless, we were able to deliver his message of peace to the public.
Several reports on Turkey published in 2016:
- Amnesty International “Displaced and Dispossessed: Sur Residents’ Right to Return Home“
- European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) “Turkey: Opinion on the Legal Framework Governing Curfews“
- Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights ““Memorandum on the Human Rights Implications of Anti-Terrorism Operations in South-Eastern Turkey“