Aleppo and Cizre: fearful symmetry

Supposed antagonists Bashar Assad and Recep Tayyip Erdogan are both in the process of reducing cities to rubble: Aleppo in northern Syria and Cizre in eastern Turkey. The world is just starting to take note of the disaster in Cizre, which has been laregly invisilbe but won a flurry of coverage this week with the release a report by Turkish human rights group Mazlumder (PDF) finding that army campaigns turned the predominantly Kurdish city into a "war zone," with over 200 people killed and more than 10,000 homes destroyed over the past months. Officially, the troops were there to enforce a round-the-clock curfew in place between December and March, but it quickly became a counterinsurgency war to pacifiy (or destroy) neighborhoods under control of PKK youth organizations. "Cizre has witnessed unprecedented destruction following clashes which took place during a curfew lasting over 78 days, and unlike in curfews before, the curfew in Cizre saw mass killings," Mazlumder said. The worst single incident was the Feb. 19 massacre, in which some 150 Kurds sheltering in basements burned to death when the buildings were set on fire by military forces. Lawyers from the local bar association told Mazlumder that "following the deaths in the basements in Cizre, there was no crime scene investigation and no judicial authority was allowed to enter the basements." (BBC News, May 23; DW, May 18)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has taken note, saying: "More and more information has been emerging from a variety of credible sources about the actions of security forces in the town of Cizre during the extended curfew there from mid-December until early March. And the picture that is emerging, although still sketchy, is extremely alarming." (Rudaw, May 10) Sobering footage of the ruins of destroyed Cizre neighborhoods can be seen on Facebook.

And while Cizre now seems to be mostly pacified, fighting continues elsewhere in Turkish Kurdistan—for instance, in Nusaybin, where the military has reportedly used internationally-banned phosphorus bombs against civilians. (ARA News, May 18)

But we aren't supposed to talk about this… The US media bury it because Turkey is "our" NATO ally. Supporters of the Syrian revolution, righlty outraged at Assad's destruction of Aleppo, keep their silence because Turkey is backing the FSA. Then the Kurds get bashed for taking their allies where they can find them—that is, in Turkey's rival Russia. "No friends but the mountains."

While the US merely connives in the destruction of Cizre, Russia is actively participating in the destruction in Aleppo, sending warplanes to join in the carnage despite Moscow's supposed "withdrawal" from Syria. In a wrenching story, The Telegraph spoke with Aleppo activist Ismail al-Abdullah, who said: "The Russians are great friends to Assad. We can't say the same for the Americans. When we heard Mr. Kerry say Aleppo was run by al-Qaeda we realized we were on our own. There are no terrorists where the government is bombing—it is a lie that everyone is agreeing to accept for the sake of the ceasefire agreement."

This is a reference to John Kerry's statement last month that Russian bombardment of Aleppo was a response to the the presence there of the Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. (NYT, April 23) The "ceasefire," of course, excludes Nusra and ISIS, so Assad and Russia can violate it with impunity by employing the propaganda trick of calling whoever they are bombing Nusra or ISIS. And the US State Department is apparently playing along. Why they call it a "Great Game."

Although Aleppo has also now largely receded from the headlines, this week saw the heaviest air-strikes on the city since February—with both regime and Russian warplanes involved. Just over the past month, some 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo. (AFP, May 22)

Unfortunately, because of the very effective divide-and-rule strategy ironically employed by both Assad and Erdogan to play the Kurds and Arabs off against each other, there is very little solidarity between the besieged of Cizre and Aleppo. This needs to change, and very urgently.