Greater Middle East
Turkish prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Figen Yüksekdağ, co-chair of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), on charges of terrorism for her alleged ties to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). A court accepted an indictment prepared by the Van province Chief Public Prosecutor's office calling for a life sentence. Yüksekdağ has been charged with disrupting the unity of the state, supporting "self-rule" in Van, and spreading terrorist propaganda. Yüksekdağ and Selahattin Demirtaş, co-leaders of the mostly Kurdish-led HDP, were arrested in early November. The Turkish parliament voted earlier in the year to lift parliamentary immunity from a select group of MPs who the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan allege have ties with the banned PKK.
On Dec. 27, leaders of the Kurdish autonmous administration in northern Syria, meeting as a Constituent Assembly at the town of Rmeilan (Rimelan), voted to remove the name "Rojava" from the federal system that governs the region. Initially called the "Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria-Rojava," it is now to be named simply the "Democratic Federal System of Northern Syria." (Kurdish Question, Jan. 3) The dropping of the traditional Kurdish name for the region is something of an about-face, following a campaign to revive Kurdish-language toponymy. This would appear to be motivated by the current political re-alignment in Syria, and the final breaking of what some have seen as a de facto alliance between the Kurdish forces and the Bashar Assad regime against Turkish-backed rebel militia.
After initiating talks on Syria that exclude Washington, Turkey and Russia each accused the US of backing what they called "terrorist groups" in the country. The accusations came Dec. 27, the same day both governments agreed to hold further talks in Kazakhstan next month. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he had evidence that US-led coalition forces support ISIS as wel as the Kurdish-led Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its military arm, the People's Protection Units (YPG). "They were accusing us of supporting Daesh," Erdogan said at a press conference in Ankara, using the Arabic abbreviation for ISIS. "Now they give support to terrorist groups including Daesh, YPG, PYD. It is very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos." The US State Department issued a requisite statement dismissing Erdogan's claims as "ludicrous." (Al Jazeera, Dec. 21)
Kurdish forces will have to hand over control of their enclave of Sheikh Maqsoud in Aleppo to the Damascus regime by the end of the year, according to an Assad military advisor. The statement from the advisor, named as Ali Maqsud, was reported in a Dec. 22 tweet from independent Kurdish news agency Rudaw. After Syrian victory in eastern Aleppo, the government will take control of the whole city, Ali Maqsud told Rudaw. The Syrian government will prompt the People's Protection Units (YPG) to hand over their positions in the city to the Syrian army, he said. The ultimatum came as the Damascus regime announced that it is now in control of all Aleppo after the last civilians and rebel fighters were evacuated the eastern neighborhoods.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (PDF) Dec. 21 to establish an independent panel to investigate possible war crimes in Syria. The resolution, approved by a vote of 105 to 15 with 52 abstentions, will establish an "International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to Assist in the Investigation and Prosecution of Those Responsible for the Most Serious Crimes under International Law Committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011." The mechanism will work closely with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2011. The resolution:
Alarmed at the "devastating" humanitarian crisis in Aleppo, where thousands of civilians remain trapped, the Security Council Dec. 19 called on the United Nations to carry out "neutral monitoring and direct observation on evacuations from the eastern districts" of the war-ravaged city. The unanimously adopted resolution requested immediate deployment of staff for monitoring and reporting on the evacuations. The French-led resolution also calls on all parties to respect and protect all medical and humanitarian personnel, "their means of transport and equipment, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the country." The vote came as thousands of civilians awaited resumption of evacuations.
The Turkish government has been silencing the media on a massive scale to prevent scrutiny or criticism of the government's "ruthless crackdown" on its enemies, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report Dec. 15. The report was based on interviews with journalists, editors, lawyers, and press freedom activists, and a review of court documents relating to the prosecution and imprisonment of journalists. According to HRW, since the failed coup in July, the attack on critical journalism has "accelerated...denying Turkey's population access to a regular flow of independent information from domestic newspapers, radio, and television stations about developments in the country." The report stated that Turkey was abusing the criminal justice system to prosecute and imprison journalists on false charges of terrorism, insulting of public officials and crimes against the state. HRW also documented physical attacks on journalists, interference with journalistic independence, government takeover or shutdown of private media companies and critical television stations.