A well-known Kurdish physician and activist, Yekta Uzunoglu, who is in Switzerland at the moment, organizing humanitarian delivery of medicines to Afrín, affected by war. He gave an exclusive interview to the Parlamentní listy (Parlamentary Journal) to explain the readers the background of the Turkish invasion in the area in the North of Syria, inhabited mostly by the Kurds.
Do you have any information from your Kurdish friends in Afrín about the current situation at the Afrín battlefield? What does it look like there right now?
We keep getting information incessantly. Fortunately, the modern technology makes it possible. Today it has been the twenty-second day since the Turkish Army entered, unlawfully, the territory of the sovereign state (the interview took place on Saturday, February 10, 2018 – editor’s note) started. The Turkish invasion contradicts international law – both the Charter of the United Nations (UN), which bans offensive wars and the Washington Treaty regarding establishment of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO).
The UN Charter, which, besides other things, founded the UN and set up the mechanisms to keep international peace, has some instruments that enable the international community to provide help for the attacked ones in stopping the aggression and establishing peace. The world superpowers, however, just watch violating the law. They just watch one country, a member of the UN and NATO, attacking another sovereign country while their soldiers commit war crimes, side by side with the jihadist terrorists who had been fought by the international community until short time ago.
The UN Security Council, which was established to deal with exactly that kind of situations, keeps silent. And so do the NATO authorities. For three weeks, the second largest army in the ranks of NATO has been attacking Syrian Kurds with the state-of-the art technology originating from the US, Germany and other Alliance members. The Kurds, who, as the only effective force in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS), sacrificed their children, are being murdered by Western weapons. Using German and American technology outside Turkey and for the purpose of attacks also contradicts the agreements that enabled selling the weapons to the Turks. The governments of the countries which sold the weapons also keep silent.
The Turkish Army advanced just 6 or 8 km away from the border inside the Canton of Afrín in the attack against the Kurds, though the Kurds defend themselves with practically “bare hands”. Luckily, the ground units did not get through deeper in the country thanks to the brave resistance of the defenders. Regrettably, the Turks also make attacks from the air. Let me recall the fact that Turkey deployed 73 of their F-16 airplanes on the first day of attack.
Due to the air attacks, the Kurds in Afrín have suffered heavy casualties, mostly the civilian ones. The air bombardment using the F-16 aircraft is not aimed at Kurdish combatants but at the Kurds as a nation. According to the reports on combat tactics I have received, the aim of the Turkish attacks obviously is to kill as many people as possible. That is another chapter of the Turkish genocide of Kurds that persists for a hundred years already.
And I also have to add that all of the Islamist paramilitary organizations that are in the place fight against the Kurds, side by side with the Turkish army, the army of NATO. The same terrorists the Kurds had fought against until short time ago, alongside the international forces to protect our common human values.
What is your explanation for the strange passivity of Russia? According to the Asad-Putin agreement, Russian airplanes are supposed to guard the airspace all over Syria – i.e. including Afrín. How is it possible that the Russians did not start against the attacking Turkish planes?
Until recently, it seemed that the individual segments of the Russian state are in harmony, coordinated tightly. But to my surprise, which was a shock for most people outside Russia – not just the Kurds – it seems that there is a similar chaos in the Russian state institutions like in Donald Trump’s US administration. According to the information I have received, a strange deal was made between the Chiefs of the General Staffs of Russia and Turkey regarding this matter.
Rojava is an area in northern Syria, inhabited mostly by Kurds. We call it Syrian Kurdistan. It is administratively divided into three cantons. The Cantonese system was introduced by the Kurds according to the example of Switzerland. The Kurds cooperate with the United States in two of them. In the third one- in Afrín – the local residents and local government cooperated with Russia. People and politicians in Afrín did not want the Americans to operate there. Two years ago, the Russians established a Russian military base in the canton, under the agreement with the Afrínian Kurds.
About a month ago, however, Islamic radicals, supported by Turkey, launched attacks on another Russian military base near the city of Idlib. That is completely outside Rojava. They succeeded in damaging several Russian aircraft during the attacks.
According to the available information, there were direct talks between the Chiefs of General Staffs of the Russian and Turkish armies. The talks took place in Moscow, no details were disclosed. However, the following events show apparently that a sort of “peculiar” agreement was made. It seems that Turkey was supposed to instruct their Islamists in Syria to withdraw from Idib and make no attacks against Russian bases. In exchange, the Russians probably promised to enable the Turkish military invasion against Afrín. Reportedly, even the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, did not get information about the agreement until the moment of the attack.
Then, however, the Islamists, backed by Turkey, shot down the Russian Su-25 plane in the province of Idib on February 3, while they were leaving the area. The attack annoyed the Russian President Vladimir Putin so immediately he ordered the Russian Air Force to close the airspace over the whole of Syria for Turkish aircraft – in contradiction with the agreement.
In my opinion, the intervention of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had talks with Putin in Moscow, also contributed to the Russian President’s decision. He probably provided him with a lot of interesting information from the area, obtained by the Israeli Intelligent Services.
Unfortunately the Russian airspace closure worked fully for only 4 to 5 days. Then the airspace was opened again for the Turks. It was probably based on the fact that the Russian General Staff insisted on the agreement and made Putin to renew it. Turkish aircraft renewed bombing of Afrín.
And what happened to the Russian base in Afrín? Is it also being attacked by the Turks? Did Putin leave it without protection?
The Russians closed the base a day before the Turkish attack. They cleared it overnight and moved to another base in the Syrian hinterland. They simply left the Kurds alone, to the mercy of the Turks. All of the Kurds perceive the act as treason. Among other things because of the fact that they had been pushed by the US to cooperate with them also in Canton Afrín, as they did in other areas of Kurdistan. However, the Afríninans chose the Russians as their allies and they stood loyally by their side throughout the war, even though they lost quite a lot of material support.
Did the several-day air-flight blocade above Rojava help the Kurds in Afrín?
The Kurds used the few days to move several thousand fighters from different parts of Kurdistan to Afrín. The most important thing is, however, that the Afrínians acquired several Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS). Not quite the most up-to-date. But they managed to shoot down a Turkish battle helicopter on Thursday. On Friday they destroyed another Turkish tank Leopard II, which is the most modern tank made in Germany. According to the agreements on supplying them to Turkey, they have nothing to do outside Turkey. The Turks use them in fights in Rojava. And the German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the manufacturer, Rheinmetal, keep silent and do nothing.
But I must emphasize that the conflict between Russia and Turkey, which gave our people a few days of respite from the Turkish air bombing, did not arise because of the Kurds. It happened because of downing a Russian warplane by Turkey-supported Islamists in the Idlib region. That is outside Rojava. In fact it was because the Russsian-Turkish deal ceased to work for a while.
Unfortunately, I must say that the Turkish land artillery attacks were not stopped during the air lock. The Kurds in Afrín were bombarded by artillery grenades from heavy howitzers. Including civilian goals, of course.
But then the Russians and the Turks made another kind of agreement. Since Friday night, February 9, the Turkish aircraft has been throwing bombs on Kurdish civilians again. The Turkish war crimes continue. And the Central Hospital in Afrín is even short of medicines…
The Russian-Turkish deal may solve some Russian military problems in Syria, but it damaged the reputation of Russia for a long period of time ahead. Not only with the Kurds. To such an extent that it cannot be rectified easily. Awareness of the betrayal will be transferred from generation to generation. That is customary in Oriental culture.
What, in your opinion, lays behind the renewal of the original Russian-Turkish agreement? Some European media have written that the official reason for cancellation of the Russian blockade was allegedly the fact that some US aircraft flew into Syrian airspace and bombed some jihadists.
As far as I know, the things are sometimes different from what the “world media” report. In fact, neither the Russian Army nor the Syrian one are able to effectively eliminate all of the Jihadist groups supported by Turkey and Qatar in Syria. It is not enough to use the Air Force to make the combat effective. Infantry must also be deployed. That fact has been familiar since the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan started. We can see it in Iraq and also in Syria, after all.
But Russia is not willing to deploy their land troops in Syria. Maybe in fear of possible losses. That was probably the reason for the agreement between the Russian and Turkish military leaders, stating that Turkrks would withdraw the Jihadists from Idlib and redirect them against the Kurds in Afrín. And that Russia, in return for that, would open the air space above Rojava.
Not just by the Kurds, it is perceived as a dirty trade made by the shortsighted ones. It may help Russian soldiers in Idlib for a while. But it will damage the credibility of the Russian Army as a whole and, in particular, of Russia as a state for a long time. And not just in Syria. I wonder why the Russian President Vladimir Putin let the dirty military trade being implemented.
I think it would be in the interest of Russia if Putin followed more closely the advice of his experienced Foreign Minister, Sergi Lavrov, who was trying to avert the second Russian-Turkish deal, instead of listening to the advice of his advisor and former spokesperson Dimitriy Peskov, who is a turkologist by his original profession, and to the advice of the Chief of General Staff of the Russian Army.
From what you say it looks like the war in Syria is far from over. Though it seemed to be so according to the articles in European press before the Turkish invasion in Afrín. Is this “just” another round, this time aimed against the Kurds?
That war really cannot “be just finished”. Turkey, together with Qatar and Saudi Arabia had their own economic plan which was at the background of provoking the war in Syria. Their intention is to build a gas pipeline from Qatar to Turkey and a crude oil from Saudi Arabia to Turkey. And the two “pipes”, according to the plan, are to go through Syria and across Rojava. Turkey still hopes – sometimes desperately – to realize the plan “somehow”, after all.
Now the Turks are even trying to stop the oil pipeline project from Iraq across Syrian Kurdistan to the seaside. Thus the Iraquian Kurds would remove the “strongest card” from Turkish hands. The Iraquian Kurds would get their oil to the sea and with it to the world markets directly. The plan for that construction is of great concern for the Turks.
The war in Syria is for “dough”. And there are not just two players on the “chessboard”. They are in overabundance there…
Can you give a better idea to our readers about at least the most important ones?
Some actors are quite familiar: Russia, the USA, Turkey. But besides them there are also others involved, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other Persian-Gulf emirates. And Israel, of course! They all fight there either directly or through various paramilitary groups that often change their names.
Afrín is just one of the provinces of Rojava. What is the situation like in other parts? Is it peaceful there or the fighting continues?
Fortunately, there is peace now in the remaining parts. On the spot, we can see an incredible cohesion among Kurds, Armenians, Syrians, or Arabs who have fled to Rojava from the areas where the war with the Islamic state raged or from the areas which are still controlled by various terrorist groups. The situation used to be similar in Canton Afrín. In Afrín there lived about 300,000 Kurds before the war, and 400,000 refugees from other parts of Syria were welcomed during the war. No matter if they were Christians or Muslims, irrespective of their orientation. The greatest number of civilian casualties caused by the Turkish attack on Afrín are the refugees who had come from other parts of Syria to seek a safe place to live at. Not just the Kurds but also Armenians, Arabs, Assyrians etc. continue to die there. Afrín had been a peaceful place until the Turkish invasion. It was the only province of Syria where had not been any fighting throughout the war. That is why so many refugees from other parts of the country had come there.
In the two cantons of Rojava, the Americans are helping the Kurds. And not only militarily, but also in the field of health, education, justice, etc. And the US Congress has approved further assistance for 2018, and the President Ronald Trump has already signed it.
You have said many Kurds from the other parts have been moving to Afrín to help their compatriots against the Turkish invasion. You have mentioned that the Kurds in the other parts of Rojava cooperate with the USA. Do they have also American or “Western” military equipment? Could that revert the situation in the front? Can we expect deploying the western weaponry against the western weapons in the hands of the Turks?
The Americans have 3 air bases in two cooperating cantons. The United States have brought 4,000 vehicles carrying heavy military equipment to Rojava during the past year. By air, they delivered more infantry weapons – including light weapons – to the Kurds in Rojava than the Swiss Army possesses. That is the fundamental difference from the point of view of the Kurds. The Americans armed the Kurds in two cantons, but the Russians in Afrín did not do that. In Afrín, they pay the bloody price for their trust in the Russians.
Now the Kurds have been trying to get both warriors and weapons info Afrín – in spite of the US aversion to that.
Even a grandson of Dr.Ing. Nuri Dersimi has been fighting in the area now. He is the grandson of the legendary Kurdish warrior – the leader of the resistance against the Turks from 1919 to 1921 and 1938. His family comes from the Dersim area, where the Turks murdered almost all Kurds in 1938. His ancestors were some of the few suvivors. Thousands of other fighters moved with him to Afrín.
Some very effective Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) have emerged on the black market recently. The Kurds from Afrín buy them and pay for them with their women’s gold jewels.
Can Erdogan “look forward to” seeing “his German” tanks being burnt down by those modern western weapons?
Several tanks Leopard II “made in Germany” have been already burnt after being hit by German RPG Milan. From available resources I know about at least three Leopards destroyed. Germany delivered the “Milans” to the Kurds in Iraq to fight the Islamic state. They also trained the Kurdish fighters in using them. And you can see they trained them well. Well, now they came to help their brothers in Afrín. It’s an effective help. Chancellor Merkel has had hard times these days. It is another “cock-up” in the already tensed German-Turkish relations.
Why did not Russians give Afrín anything?
The Russians supply weapons to the Syrian Army, which is commanded by President Asad. They came to the Kurds in Afrín with the offer: “Let us set up a military base here and we will protect you in return. No jihadists will pass through our air shield”. In Afrín, they gave a nod. For a long time, it really worked. . But then they began to make those strange “political dances” with Erdogan – first the enemy, then the ally for a while. Then they began to lose. And not just on the battlefield. Now they left their allies and hosts in Afrin to the Turks and Jihadists. Lost confidence can be regained much worse than a couple of planes or tanks.
Turkey stated the official reason for the invasion of Afrín that the Kurds had shot rockets to the Turkish territory. But from what you say, it seems to me to be as credible as when Hitler justified the assault on Poland in 1939, which was the official beginning of World War II, by an alleged Polish assault on a radio station in the German border town of Gliwitz … … Do you have any information on any incidents on the Turkish border?
The Turks had already wanted to attack Afrín about two and a half years ago. At that time, some of the foreign intelligent services recorded an interview between the Turkish Prime Minister, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Deputy Chief of Staff, and the head of Turkish intelligence service MIT. “That’s easy. I’ll tell our guys to send a couple of rockets from Syria on us. And then the route is open for you, General… “. At that time, the recording got to the world media and the Turks had to stop the operation immediately. Then an intelligence service foiled their plans.
I think now the Turks have just brushed off that plan. We have the same “game” again on the scene. Just some time later. Those two and a half years was just a delay. The Turks are interested in the Qatar gas pipeline, the Saudi Arabian oil pipeline, and that’s a huge game. There is another goal of theirs, the cement plants in Rojava and other natural resources of the Sunni part of Syria. Erdogan needs the war for the economic survival of his regime in Turkey. Just like Hitler, who is admired by Erdogan a lot, needed them to keep up the Nazi dictatorship in Germany.
That’s why, unlike many people, I did not wonder when I heard on the radio yesterday that Erdogan and his Chief of General Staff began to threaten Greece by war.
The cement and its connection with the war in Syria has not been discussed in public so much yet. Cement is a damn strategic resource. Everyone needs it. For civil and military buildings. For homes, harbors, airports, but also for bunkers. How about cement in Syria?
Cement is another reason why Turkey does not want the Kurds in Rojava to live and breathe calmly. The Kurds in Rojava have, apart from oil and agricultural products, the highest quality raw material for cement production in the world. And they have two most state-of-the-art cement plants far and wide. They were built by the most renowned French cement company – Lafarge in 2011. It is one of the world’s largest giants in the industry. Just the German HeidelbergCement is bigger.
In 2011 – just before the war with the Islamic state began – the cement production was launched in the Kurdish town of Kobani. The construction of the cement plant cost more than 450 million USD. It had been in operation for only a few weeks when ISIS jihadists attacked Kobani. In that city, the Kurds waged the most difficult battle with ISIS. The Kurds won, so the cement plant has been in their hands now.
The Syrian Kurds would only need to have their own cement to develop Rojava. But they have far more opportunities to raise the economy and restore the country destroyed by war. But Turkey does not want it because of their economic interests. Turkey is almost an exclusive supplier of cement to Israel. And the Israelis are interested in dividing the supplies for security reasons. They want to take cement from Rojava.
But the contract threatens fundamentally the economic interests of the Turkish Army, which is the majority owner of OYAK’s shares. The company owns almost all cement plants in Turkey. Turkish soldiers looked forward to making profit on the reconstruction of Syria, the devastation of which they helped to organize. The Kurdish cement production is an unpleasant competition for them. Particularly when the Rojava cement is higher quality than the Turkish one. And it is also one of the reasons for their invasion to Rojava.
It is a well-known fact that Turkey is a major exporter of cement. But I thought the cement plants were owned by foreign investors. How did the army come to that?
The Turkish army has always been the majority owner of OYAK. It provided supplies for military purposes. Between 2001 and 2003, the army began to buy cement plants all around Turkey. The soldiers knew that there would be an American invasion in Iraq. As a result, the price of cement would rise. A great part of the cement price is made by transportation, which makes it more expensive. Turkey had the advantage of being a neigbour of Iraq. So Turkey has made the biggest profit on the war disaster in Iraq. Up to now, the Turkish state and military officials publicly and threateningly communicate that they must have their share in the reconstruction of the destroyed Iraqi cities.
And the sale of cement works in Turkey was voluntary – including the foreign owners?
Do you believe that anyone in Turkey has the courage to say “NO”? to the army!
I have heard that for the cases like that, Erdogan has a special law because of the fight against terrorism, and he is said to be able to expropriate any company immediately – including the foreign ones. Is that true?
Yes. Erdogan has started an extensive sophisticated game. He has a list of companies in Turkey, allegedly supporting terrorists. Immediately, they can all be nationalized. And the list is not even a secret one. There are many branches of the world’s largest companies in it. With this game, he is blackmailing Western countries. First of all, Germany, which could be subject to hundreds of billions of euros in losses.
I have caught some news on social networks in the last hours saying that the Syrian government troops have been attacking Rojava. Can you confirm it from your sources?
That is true, I am afraid.
Why have the Asad’s troops been doing that? The Kurds were allies a few weeks ago in the fight with ISIS, weren’t there?
The Syrian army has attacked Rojava at various periods. Mostly when they feel the Kurds have been weakened or in need. Damascus, as well as the Turks, aims to control our wealth! About 76% of all Syrian agricultural products come from Rojava. God gave us Paradise and we pay for the gift with our blood …
The above figure suggest that there must be enough water in Rojava. Is that the goal of Syrian government troops?
Water is another kind of wealth that the Creator gave us. There are two Biblical rivers in the Rojava: the Tigris and the Euphrates …. And water is much more valuable than oil in that region. Only a part of that water could cover all of the consumption of Israel.
Do you believe the Kurds will resist in this onslaught from multiple sides?
In our modern history, we have experienced much worse attacks. We laugh at that. Because we have never had so many means of self-defense as we do have today. And our greatest weapon is our craving for freedom and our love for our country!