Will Kobani intervention spur split in NATO?
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces are set to arrive in Kobani, the ISIS-besieged town in northern Syria—allowed to pass through Turkish territory by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But Erdogan is continuing to bar Kurdish PKK fighters from passing across the border to come to Kobani's defense—and is even taking harsh measures against Kurdish observers who have gathered at the border to witness the ongoing battle. On Oct. 26, Turkish forces used tear-gas to drive journalists and observers from two hills overlooking the border. The observers were removed to a third hill a kilometer north with a limited view of Kobani. The military cited concerns for the viewers' safety. (Rudaw, Oct. 26) Erdogan, demonstrating the grudging nature of the opening of his territory to the Peshmerga, said that Kobani's defenders do "not want" their help. Referring to the PKK-aligned Democratic Union Party (PYD), whose People's Protection Units (YPG) have been fighting to defend Kobani for more than a month, Erdogan said: "The PYD does not want the Peshmerga to come. The PYD thinks its game will be ruined with the arrival of the Peshmerga—their set-up will be spoilt." He also added that the PYD is a "terrorist group" because of its links to the PKK. (Rudaw, Oct. 26)
The YPG and affiliated Women's Protection Unit (YPJ) at Kobani meanwhile issued a joint communique on the 41st day of the siege, stating that fighting continues within the town and stressing the urgent need for assistance. The statement said that some Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces are fighting alongside the YPG/J. (ANF, Oct. 26)
Although the YPG communique made no mention of it, reports have emerged in the British press that a team of the UK's SAS special forces have joined the defense of Kobani, and are helping the US to coordinate air-strikes on ISIS positions. The reports also mentioned the US Delta Force on the ground at Kobani. (UK Daily Star, Oct. 26)
This, days after Erdogan openly expressed his displeasure with US air-drops to the PYD's forces. "It would be wrong for the United States—with whom we are friends and allies in NATO—to talk openly and to expect us to say 'yes' to such a support to a terrorist organization." The US is meanwhile trying to get around the fact that is collaborating with a wing of the PKK, still listed by the State Department as a "terrorist organization." For the first time, the White House publicly stated Oct. 24 that the PYD is separate from the PKK, and thus not considered a terrorist organization by the United States. (Rudaw, Oct. 24)
A Kurdish insurgency now seems to be re-emerging within Turkey, follwiing repression of widespread protests over perceived Turkish acquiesence in the ISIS siege of Kobani. The violence actually escalated to Turkish air-strikes on PKK strongholds last week. PKK militants killed three Turkish soldiers in Yüksekova, in Turkey's southeast Hakkari province, on Oct. 25. One day earlier, soldiers shot dead three PKK guerrillas in a skirmish at a power plant in Kars province. (Middle East Eye, Oct. 26; Reuters, Oct. 25) On Oct. 26, the PKK-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionist Youth Movement (YDG-H) held a public march in military-like order in Cizre district of Şırnak province, where they declared local autonomy, asserting their strongholds in the area to be "territories ruling themselves." (Today's Zaman, Oct. 26)
It is difficult to see certain sectors of the "left" actually line up behind Erdogan in this conflict. The oft-problematic Richard Falk, UN human rights rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories, told Amy Goodman: "[T]he bombing of the PKK didn’t come in a vacuum. The PKK was doing things. They were capturing Turkish children, and they were committing various acts in some of the villages in eastern Turkey. So, it's a complicated—everything in that region is complicated..." He did not back up his claims about the supposed PKK abuses; nor was he challenged to do so by Goodman. (Democracy Now, Oct. 21)
As we have noted, the word "complicated" is always invoked by those who seek the comfort of neutrality in the face of aggression.
Some leftist Turks, however, are rallying to the PKK/YPG. On Oct. 21, a march was held in a working-class district of Istanbul to honor Suphi Nejat Agirnasli, a local youth who was killed while fighting alongside the YPG in Kobani as a volunteer. At the demonstration, hundreds of marchers carried red flags past rows of riot police. They also flew the yellow flag of the YPG. The march ended solemnly at the ferry terminal on the Asian side, the flags still flying, the marchers raising victory signs. (Al Jazeera America, Oct. 22)
Erdogan fears the Kurds for the same reason the rulers of Beijing fear the Tibetans... threat of the contagion spreading to the dominant ethnicity.