Syria's last opposition-controlled province of Idlib has receded from the headlines since a joint Russian-Turkish deal was announced last September, forestalling an Assad regime offensive on the province and establishing a "demilitarized zone" policed by the two foreign powers. But shelling and bombardment of the province by Assadist and Russian forces has escalated over the past month—and much of the shells and missiles are falling within the "demilitarized zone." Most recently, five civilians were injured April 14 in a regime air-strike on the Idlib villages of Urum al-Jawz and Bsanqul and Jabal al-Arabaeen, outside the town of Ari, within the demilitarized zone. UN Senior Humanitarian Advisor for Syria Najat Rochdi told reporters in Geneva last week that over 100,000 Idlib residents have fled their homes since February as a result of increased fighting. More than 90 civilians, half of them children, were killed in the province in March. As ever, medical facilities and schools continue to be targeted.
Authorities in the Netherlands have arrested a Dutch volunteer—known by the nom de guerre Andok—who fought with the Kurdish-led People's Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in northern Syria's Raqqa in 2017. The Dutch Public Prosecution said in a statement April 2 that Andok, 24, had traveled to France in December 2016 and later went to the Syrian battle zone. He was identified in a broadcast for the Dutch TV program EenVandaag in September 2017, the prosecutor's office said. However, in the interview he did not show his face nor reveal his real name. He was detained upon his arrival at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, and appeared the following day before an examining judge in Rotterdam, who placed him in custody for two weeks pending formal charges.
Turkey's eastern province of Muş has banned protests and demonstrations for 15 days following the March 30 nationwide local elections amid objections by the country's pro-Kurdish party to the reported results. The announcement from the governor's office came following an official victory by Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the Kurdish-majority province by a narrow margin over the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The HDP is preparing to appeal the results, citing irregularities. Muş is one of numerous provinces in Turkey's east where government-appointed administrators (kayyim) have been running municipalities since the July 2016 coup attempt. (Ahval)
Turkish police on March 30 conducted raids on 127 homes in Istanbul and arrested at least 53 people, including all candidates for the city council with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP). The sweeps come less than 24 hours before nationwide local elections commence. In southern Sanliurfa province, police arrested 11 other HDP candidates and campaigners on supposed "terrorism-related" charges. Some 30 more HDP candidates and supporters were arrested in the cities of Adana, Van, and Igdir. The government accuses the HDP of links to outlawed Kurdish militants, and 10 lawmakers, 40 mayors and thousands of activists remain behind bars. Before the raids, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated the accusation and called the party "terror lovers." (Kurdistan 24, AP)
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced the complete "territorial defeat" of the Islamic State (ISIS) on March 23. The SDF "declare total elimination of so-called caliphate and 100% territorial defeat of ISIS," Mustafa Bali, head of the force's press office, announced on Twitter. "On this unique day, we commemorate thousands of martyrs whose efforts made the victory possible," Bali added. Some 11,000 fighters of the SDF, a Kurdish-led umbrella force of Kurds, Arabs, and Christians of northern Syria, died in the war against ISIS. In Iraq, more than 1,800 Peshmerga were killed battling the group. The Iraqi army has not released their official figures casualties, but it is believed to be in the thousands.
The European Union adopted a non-binding resolution March 13 against Turkey's accession as a member of the EU. The resolution passed in the European Parliament by 370 votes in favor, 109 against with 143 abstentions. The assembly noted past and ongoing human and civil rights violations committed by Turkey. The body expressed concern over Turkey's lack of respect for minority religious and cultural rights. It mentioned the "shrinking space for civil society," arrests and suppression of journalists, and dismissal of dissident academics, as well as the treatment of refugees and migrants within its borders. The body noted that Turkey's government has violated the due process rights of its own citizens under the guise of counter-terrorism. It has also intimidated its own citizens abroad and abused Interpol arrest warrants to extradite its own nationals back to Turkey.
After nine years of proceedings, a court in Belgium on March 8 acquitted multiple defendants accused of activities involving the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Belgian judicial authorities had requested that 36 individuals and companies be tried by a criminal court on charges of taking part in "terrorist activity." The Belgian Chamber of Indictment, however, blocked proceedings against all defendants, ruling that the PKK insurgency is an "internal armed conflict" within Turkey and, as such, neither the party nor its armed wing, the People's Defense Forces (HPG), may be considered a terrorist organization under Belgian law. The Turkish Foreign Ministry condemned the decision. (Kurdistan 24)
In Episode 28 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg notes with trepidation Google’s plans to develop a censored search engine for China, and thereby be allowed back through the Great Firewall to access the world's largest market. But the next and more sinister step is imposing China's draconian standards for control of information on all Internet users, worldwide. Harbingers of this are already seen in Facebook's censorship of the Tibetan struggle, and of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, as well as initiatives to suppress footage of Israeli war crimes. While protesting these moves is imperative, the potential for such abuses in inherent to the technology—and this, ultimately, is a deeper and more complex problem that also urgently demands a critique. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.