Greater Middle East
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)
An appeals court in Turkey on Feb. 19 upheld the convictions of 14 employees of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish news outlet that has been critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The defendants—including journalists, a cartoonist, executives and accountants—were sentenced in April to prison terms between four and eight years on charges of "acting on behalf of a terrorist group without being members." The Third Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reviewed and upheld each of these sentences. In Turkey, sentences less than five years cannot be overturned once they are upheld by an appellate court, meaning that eight of the defendants must now serve out their terms. The remaining defendants with longer sentences plan to appeal to Turkey's Supreme Court.
The US House of Representatives passed House Joint Resolution 37 on Feb. 13, calling for the withdrawal of US armed forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen. The resolution states that only Congress has the authority to declare war, and notes that Congress has not made any declaration of war against the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are the target of Saudi-led forces. US armed forces have supported Saudi Arabia through aerial targeting assistance, intelligence sharing, and mid-flight aerial refueling. The resolution gives President Donald Trump 30 days to withdraw forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen. Forces which are involved in operations directed at al-Qaeda in the region are exempt from the resolution. The resolution also does not restrict the sharing of intelligence. It also specifies that the resolution does not impact military operations undertaken in cooperation with Israel.
We've already noted the strange bedfellows in the Rojava Kurds' political push to forestalll a US withdrawal from northern Syria, which would be a green light for Turkey to attack their autonomous zone. Well, they just got a little stranger with the arrival in Washington last month of Ilham Ahmed, co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council, civilian wing of the Kurdish-led US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces. She and her delegation actually met with Trump at the Trump International Hotel after they touched down Jan. 29. The prez reportedly told the group "I love the Kurds," and promised that they are "not going to be killed" by Turkish forces. (Al Monitor) Making it even more surreal, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, best friend of fascist dictator Bashar Assad on Capitol Hill, brought Ahmed to the State of the Union address on Feb. 5 as her special guest. Gabbard tweeted about it, and the Turkish newspaper Takvim ran a photo of Ahmed standing beside Trump at the SOTU. We wonder if Ahmed, who represents a radical-left Kurdish revolutionary movement that is influenced by anarchism, is aware that the presidential bid of her host Gabbard has been endorsed by David Duke—who shares Tulsi's fondness for Assad.
Bahrain’s highest court on Jan. 28 upheld a life sentence for Shi'ite cleric and opposition leader Sheikh Ali Salman, for spying on behalf of neighboring Qatar. According to Amnesty International, the case is based on conversations that Salman had in 2011 with the then-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani. Salman was initially acquitted, but he was sentenced to life imprisonment in November 2018 by the court of appeals. This term has now been affirmed by the Cassation Court. Amnesty International called the verdict a "bitter blow to freedom of expression." The organization's Middle East director Samah Hadid said it "exposes the country's justice system as a complete farce. The decision to uphold Sheikh Ali Salman's conviction and life prison sentence following an unfair trial highlights the authorities' determination to silence critical voices."
A Turkish court has sentenced academic Müge Ayan to two years and one month in prison on charges of aiding a terrorist organization for signing a petition calling for a peaceful end to Turkey's three-decades-old conflict with Kurdish rebels, independent news site Diken reported Jan. 21. A former anthropology professor at İstanbul's Bilgi Univresity, Ayan is among the 1,128 signatories of a petition that criticized heavy-handed tactics employed by the Turkish army in predominantly Kurdish cities in the country, including long curfews and the use of heavy weaponry, after a two-and-a-half year ceasefire between the state and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) broke down in July 2015.
A suicide blast cliamed by ISIS killed 19 people in the contested north Syrian town of Manbij Jan. 16. The blast targeted a US military patrol that was stopped for lunch at local restaurant, and among the dead were four Americans: two US service members, a defense contractor and a Defense Department civilian employee. The blast comes just weeks after Trump ordered the withdrawal of US forces from Syria, with his administration crowing about how ISIS has been defeated. Just hours after the blast, Vice President Pence embarrassingly boasted: "Thanks to the courage of our armed forces, we have crushed the ISIS caliphate and devastated its capabilities." (NYT, CNN) But an ISIS resurgence is actually a lesser concern than a US withdrawal setting off a scramble for Syria's north that could spark an Arab-Kurdish ethnic war.
Assad regime artillery struck areas of Syria's opposition-held Idlib province Jan. 12 after militants allegedly tried to infiltrate regime-held areas, according to state news agency SANA. The shelling was reportedly focused on the town of Tamanaa near Maaret al-Numan, which was seized from Turkish-backed rebels by jihadist forces earlier in the week. The was apparently part of a ceasefire agreement ending an internal conflict between rival opposition forces in Idlib. Much of the governorate's territory was reportedly turned over to the so-called "Salvation Government"—administrative arm of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the successor organization to disbanded al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. Constituent militias of the rival Turkish-backed National Liberation Front have reportedly retreated to the Turkish-held enclave of Afrin across the border in Aleppo governorate. (Rudaw, AFP) These ominous developments may spell an end to Idlib's reprieve from the threatened Assad offensiive on the province since establishment of a joint Turkish-Russian buffer zone there.