We've repeatedly pointed out the sinister side of Great Power cooperation in Syria: previous ceasefires and "peace deals" have only meant an escalation of the conflict—most recently, the siege of Aleppo and other regime gains. So the utmost cynicism is called for in viewing the pact announced Sept. 10 between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. Another fictional "ceasefire" is to take effect in two days, dependent on compliance by Bashar Assad's Russian-backed forces and "US-supported" rebel groups (although we question how "US-supported" they really are). If the truce holds for a week, the US and Russia will actually begin coordinating on air-strikes. "We believe the plan as it is set forth—if implemented, if followed—has the ability to provide a turning point, a moment of change," Kerry said, according to AP. But a "turning point" toward what?
The Turkish intervention in northern Syria has set off open war between Free Syrian Army factions and the Rojava Kurds—which will only serve the interests of ISIS and Assad. Portrayed as an offensive against ISIS, the intervention has at least equally targeted the Kurds—the most effective anti-ISIS in Syria. Turkey, long accused of conniving with ISIS to weaken the Kurds, is now making a bid for its own "buffer zone" in north Syria, reducing or completely usurping the Rojava autonomous zone. The US is now torn between its NATO ally Turkey and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) it has been backing against ISIS. US Central Command on Aug. 30 claimed it hads secured a "loose agreement" for a ceasefire between Turkish and Kurdish forces. This was immediately refuted by Ankara, with cabinet minister Omer Celik saying flatly: "We do not accept in any circumstances a 'compromise or a ceasefire reached between Turkey and Kurdish elements." (MEE, Aug. 31)
The Obama administration has reportedly proposed a new agreement to Russia's government for military cooperation in Syria, sharing target information and coordinating air-strikes. In exchange, Moscow would agree to pressure the Assad regime to stop bombing certain Syrian rebel groups. The US would not give Russia the exact locations of these groups, but specify geographic zones that would be safe from aerial assaults. (WP, June 30)
A sadly hilarious story in the Washington Post today headlines: "The British are frantically Googling what the EU is, hours after voting to leave it." A majority of Great Britain's voting public voted for the "Brexit" yesterday, apparently without even understanding exactly what it is they were voting to leave, and now may now be feeling some morning-after buyer's remorse. Prime Minister David Cameron, who cynically called the vote in a play to the populist right even as he urged rejecting the exit from the European Union, will now step down—and may go down in history as the man who oversaw the beginning of the dissolution of the United Kingdom, two centuries and change after its creation. Most obviously, Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU, and the Brexit is now reviving calls for its secession from the UK. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already announced that it is "democratically unacceptable" that Scotland will be taken out of the EU against its will, and that a second independence referendum is "highly likely." (The Independent)
The US responded this week to the Syrian Kurds' declaration of autonomy, with State Department spokesman Mark Toner saying: "We've...made it clear to these Kurdish forces [in Syria] that they should not seek to create autonomous, semi-autonomous zones." He added that Kurdish forces in Syria "should not seek to retain the territory that they liberate, rather that they should make sure it's returned to whatever civilian authorities there are and able to—so that all displaced people can return there." This is a barely veiled reference to accusations that Syrian Kurdish forces are engaging in "ethnic cleansing" against Arabs and Turkmen in areas liberated from ISIS. But not only are these charges dubious, but Toner's statement ignores that often the only "civilian authorities" are in fact those of the Kurdish autonomous administration. More ominously, he warned that the US is in close dialogue with Turkey on the question and understands Ankara's "concerns regarding Kurdish forces in northern Syria." (This as Turkey is wagng a brutal counterinsurgency against Kurdish rebels within its own territory, to Washington's silence.) Ironically, he added that the Kurdish militias in Syria "are effective fighting forces and that they are willing to take on and dislodge Daesh," using the popular pejorative for ISIS in the Middle East.
Fierce fighting between Kurdish-led YPG forces and Arab factions aligned with the Free Syrian Army is deepening a split within the Syrian resistance to both ISIS and Assad. The YPG suffered a very bad propaganda blow in clashes over the contested Azaz enclave this weekend, when its fighters paraded some 50 bodies of slain enemy forces on an open-top trailer-truck through the village of Ayn-Dakna. The bodies were taken to Afrin, seat of the local Kurdish autonomous canton, where this grisly triumphalist display waas repeated. The coverage on Turkey's official Anadolu Agency was gloating; for once they had facts to back up their disingenuous habit of refering to "YPG terrorists."
One of the greatest tragedies on the global stage now is that revolutions are going on in both Syria and Turkey—and they are being pitted against each other in the Great Game. First we look at Syria, where the partial "ceasefire" in place for over a month is finally breaking down. The critical event seems to have been the April 18 bombing of a marketplace in the northwestern town of Maarat al-Noaman by regime warplanes, killing dozens. The town is controlled by Nusra Front, which was not included in the "ceasefire," but the victims of the bombardment were overwhelmingly civilians. The town's residents had no love of Nusra, and civil resistance activists had repeatedly taken to the streets there over the past month to oppose the jihadist militia and the Bashar Assad regime alike. (NYT, April 19) In the aftermath of the market bombing, the Jaysh al-Nasr, on the of main FSA-aligned militias, announced the opening of a new "battle" against regime forces. (Reuters, April 18)
Syrian Kurds on March 17 formally declared a "Federation of Northern Syria," uniting their three autonomous cantons into one entity, in an announcement quickly denounced by the Assad regime, the opposition and regional powers alike. Democratic Union Party (PYD) official Idris Nassan said the federation brings together "areas of democratic self-administration" encompassing all the Rojava region's ethnic and religious groups. The decision was approved at a meeting in the town of Rmeilan (Jazira canton), attended by some 200 representatives of Kurdish, Arab, Armenian, Turkmen and Syriac communities. (Middle East Eye)