Greater Middle East

Turkey: vigil for disappeared resumes after five years

A group of Turkish mothers whose sons and daughters were forcibly disappeared in the 1980s and ’90s held a public vigil in Istanbul without police interference. This marked the first time the “Saturday Mothers” group has been allowed to proceed with such an event since police dispersed their last gathering in August 2018. The group’s vigils had persisted for nearly three decades. The vigil was resumed after Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that suppression of the event violated participants’ rights. (Photo via Twitter)


Ukraine bans religious organizations linked to Russia

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted Decision Number 8371, banning religious organizations found to have “colluded with armed aggressors” from operating within the country. The measure is clearly aimed at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which has been accused of collaborating with Russia. Some 16% of Ukrainians follow the church, which is distinct from the autocephalous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The church claims that it is not currently aligned with the Russian Orthodox Church and argues the law is unconstitutional. Passage of the law follows the prosecution of church leaders, including the three-year prison sentence of Metropolitan Iosaf, for distributing pro-Russian literature, and imposition of a 60-day house arrest on Metropolitan Pavel, for “supporting Russia’s armed action against Ukraine.” (Photo of Kyiv’s Pechersk Lavra via Wikipedia)


Iraq-Turkey oil pipeline to resume operation

The pipeline exporting crude oil from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq to the Turkish port of Ceyhan is ready to resume operation, seven months after it was ordered closed by an international court ruling. The Paris-based International Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of Baghdad against Ankara, finding that the latter breached a 1973 agreement by allowing the Kurdistan Regional Government to begin independent oil exports in 2014. The judgement confirmed that Iraqi national oil company SOMO is the only entity authorized to manage export operations through the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline. The KRG has now acceded to these terms, agreeing to market through SOMO. (Photo via Iraqi News Agency)


Turkish strikes on Iraq after Ankara blast

Turkey launched a wave of air-strikes on Kurdish rebel positions in northern Iraq, hours after a suicide blast at the Interior Ministry complex in Ankara. The Turkish military said 20 targets were destroyed and several fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) “neutralized.” The People Defense Forces (HPG), armed wing of the PKK, released a statement saying a “sacrificial action” against the Ministry was carried out by a unit of their Immortal Brigade. Two assailants, both women, were killed in the attack, and two police officers wounded. The statement said the attack was a “warning” to the Turkish government over its ongoing military operations against Kurdish militants both in Syria and Iraq. (Map: CIA)

The Caucasus

Podcast: the fall of Artsakh & the fate of the Armenians

With a mass exodus of ethnic Armenians underway from the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh following its fall to Azerbaijani forces, the threat of “ethnic cleansing” looms. The enclave had maintained a de facto independence as the Republic of Artsakh since 1991, but the war in Ukraine has pushed the stand-off out of the headlines, and ironically given Azerbaijan a free hand to finally re-take the territory. In Episode 193 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg explores the historical roots of the conflict, and demonstrates how the Armenians of Artsakh have been betrayed by all the Great Powers—including both Russia and the United States. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon. (Map: Wikipedia)


Turkey intransigent on Syria occupation zone

In his drive for “normalization” of his regime, Syran dictator Bashar Assad has been welcoming meetings with regional leaders in recent months. However, in comments to a reporter, he set a withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Syria as a precondition for any meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “Erdogan’s objective in meeting me is to legitimize the Turkish occupation in Syria,” Assad said. Turkey’s Defense Minister Yasar Guler responded by saying: “It is unthinkable for us to withdraw without ensuring the security of our borders and our people.” Ankara continues to demand the establishment of a 30-kilometer deep “buffer zone” cleared of any Kurdish armed groups. (Photo: Mark Lowen via Wikimedia)

Idlib displaced

Syria: grim reality behind Assad’s new aid offer

The Security Council has failed to renew the resolution allowing the UN to deliver aid across the border from Turkey to rebel-held northwest Syria, throwing into question the future of a relief effort that is crucial for millions of people. The day after the resolution expired, Russia vetoed a new resolution that would have allowed access through one border crossing into the region, Bab al-Hawa, for nine months. Two days after that, The Assad regime said it will allow UN aid into the northwest via Bab al-Hawa for six months—if it is done “in full cooperation and coordination with the government.” But this is unlikely to be welcomed by many Syrian and international aid groups, given that the current system was set up back in 2014 largely because of the Assad regime’s obstruction of aid. (Photo: UNHCR)


Kurds betrayed in Sweden NATO deal

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dropped his opposition to Sweden’s entry into NATO, it was announced ahead of the alliance summit in Vilnius. In an apparent quid pro quo, the Biden administration is dropping its objections to Turkey purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the US. Sweden has also offered concessions to Erdogan. In blocking Sweden’s NATO bid, Turkey had accused Stockholm of harboring Kurdish “terrorists”—meaning supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Ankara labels a “terrorist” group. Last November, Sweden amended its constitution to strengthen its “anti-terrorism” laws, weakening free-speech protections—clearly in deference to Turkey. The Swedish Supreme Court in June also ruled to allow extradition of the accused PKK figures to Turkey. And the rallies held in Stockholm against the extraditions by Kurdish immigrants and exiles may now be criminalized. (Photo of F-16: USAF via Wikimedia Commons)

syria refugees

EU donor conference for Syria falls short

Donors and diplomats met for a seventh straight year in Brussels to raise money for Syria’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. They pledged a total of 5.6 billion euros ($6.1 billion) for “2023 and beyond,” including 4.6 billion euros ($1 billion) for this year. The money will be used to support people both inside Syria and in neighboring countries hosting Syrian refugees. Aid groups say the amount isn’t enough given growing needs within Syria and for Syrian refugees, many of whom face pressure to return to a country still at war. The UN has only received 11.6% of the $5.41 billion it says it needs for aid to Syrians in 2023, and that doesn’t include assistance for refugees. Low funding levels have led to cuts in aid, including food rations in a place where millions are struggling to get by. (Photo: UNICEF via UN News)

Planet Watch
refugee camp

Number forcibly displaced worldwide 110 million: UN

The United Nations released the Global Trend Report 2022, on refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced and stateless people worldwide. It finds that the number of forcibly displaced people stands at 108.4 million, with 29.4 million falling under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Both figures are at an historic high. The increase in forcible displacement within a single year is also the largest since UNHCR started tracking these statistics in 1975. In light of the continuing significant increase, the report says forcible displacement likely exceeds 110 million as of May 2023. (Photo: Afghan refugee camp in Shinkiari, Pakistan, via Pixabay)

Planet Watch

Migrant fatalities surged in 2022: UN

The UN migration agency reported that 2022 was the deadliest year yet for migrants crossing from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) into Europe. According to the report from the International Organization for Migration‘s Missing Migrants Project, a record number of 3,800 people died along these migratory routes last year. The report underscored the urgent need for action to improve the safety and protection of migrants. The data, though recognized as undercounted due to the challenges in collecting information, sheds light on the magnitude of the problem. The recorded deaths in 2022 represent an 11% increase from the previous year. (Photo: Flavio Gasperini/SOS Mediterranee via InfoMigrants)

syrian refugees

Lebanon: halt ‘refoulement’ of Syrian refugees

The Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR) joined with 20 other human rights organizations to issue a joint statement protesting Lebanon’s summary deportation of Syrian refugees. The rights organizations say the deportations violate the international law principle of non-refoulement, which protects individuals from being returned to a country where they may face torture, cruel or degrading treatment, or other irreparable harm. “The Lebanese Armed Forces have recently summarily deported hundreds of Syrians back to Syria, where they are at risk of persecution or torture,” the statement charges. “The deportations come amid an alarming surge in anti-refugee rhetoric in Lebanon and coercive measures intended to pressure refugees to return.” (Photo: EU Civil Protection & Humanitarian Aid via Flickr)