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The liberation of Kobani and its repercussions 4 février 2015

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) February 04, 2015, p. 11

Dogu Ergil

Kurdish fighters have liberated the Syrian town of Kobani, located at the border between Turkey and Syria. After an intense 134-day-long battle with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters, they earned a hard-won victory.

In October 2014, when ISIL showed up at the gates of Kobani and raised its black flag, many people thought the town would soon fall as Mosul had, a much bigger city protected by thousands of well-armed soldiers. In fact, the rulers of Turkey have voiced their opinion on this, saying that “one terrorist group is facing the other,” labeling the defending Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) an affiliate, if not an offshoot, of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

ISIL is adamant about establishing a Sunni caliphate on Syrian and Iraqi soil. It wants to eliminate all other ethnic and religious groups in its envisaged territory. Kurds are one of them. ISIL has made it quite obvious that it wants a land without non-Sunni people, achieving this end either by mass massacres or deportations.

Turkey watched the advance of ISIL until it turned into a humanitarian disaster and opened up its borders to accept around 200,000 inhabitants of Kobani. The military aid that did not come from Turkey was compensated for by Kurds from Turkey — not necessarily PKK militia — as well as Iranian and Iraqi Kurds. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) sent troops from its regular army contingency (peshmerga). These diverse Kurdish groups were joined by a number of volunteers from various countries who defied the inhumane practices and dark aims of the invader.

In the initial months the defenders were outgunned and outmanned. Women joined in despite death, torture, rape and enslavement. It is reported that about 40 percent of Kobani’s defenders were women.

The brutal battle unfolded before the eyes of the world, which watched it with callousness.

The Turkish government, quite confident that the PKK and its Syrian affiliate would be tamed by ISIL so that its long struggle in Turkey would be greatly weakened, did little save for opening its borders to fleeing refugees.

Finally, the Obama administration realized what an ISIL victory would mean in the Middle East and intervened with air strikes and air drops. Its next step was to put together an anti-ISIL coalition, from which Turkey remained removed. Turkey’s attitude raised suspicions regarding its clandestine links with ISIL, which Turkey found expedient for toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which had become an obsession of the Turkish leadership.

Kobani has now been recaptured by the Kurds; 1,000 ISIL fighters have been killed and more than 300 of the defenders have perished, along with an unknown number of civilians.

The event is important in many respects for future developments in the region and international politics, for the following reasons:

Kurds acquired importance as a regional actor and a reliable ally in the fight against jihadists.

ISIL experienced a major setback, and although it still retains its fighting capacity, it has become obvious that it can be limited and eventually eliminated with the help of other means.

The Arab Spring has failed to a great extent, but the “Kurdish awakening” proved to be a success because it is not limited only to rebellion. Under able leadership, a functional and popular political-administrative organization and a progressive agenda, Kurds are moving towards self-rule. This is not exactly independence, but they are ready to manage their lives by becoming a part of the existing political system wherever they live.

The “Kurdish awakening” comes with a sustainable organization that is built on participatory politics, women’s empowerment, the capacity for self-defense and an embracing of secular values, bringing it closer to the West, which is presently on a collision course with ISIL.

The role the PKK played in this debacle has won it respect and strengthened its hand in its bargaining with Turkey for a peace deal, which has been dragging on.

The Turkish leadership has suffered in different ways. Its callousness in coming to the aid of Kurds in Kobani was rebuked with mass riots all over the country on Oct. 6-12, 2014, ending in the deaths of 46 people and great urban devastation. The riots were subdued with the help of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s intervention from his prison cell. Intelligence reports from various nations have presented evidence that Turkish contact with ISIL elements have surpassed the limits of sympathy, keeping borders open and treating the wounded.

Indifference to the Syrian Kurds’ need for recognition and callousness to their need for defense in the face of ISIL attacks have been counterproductive for Turkey’s Kurdish policies. Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds found a common ground in defending their existence.

Rather than weakening Kurdish aspirations, Turkey helped them forge a pan-Kurdish aspiration, which is much harder to suppress.

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