In an Oct. 13 statement, Amnesty International announces a report reviving claims of ethnic cleansing against Arabs and Turkmen by Kurdish-led forces of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People's Protection Units (YPG) in northern Syria. The report, "'We had nowhere else to go': Forced displacement and demolitions in northern Syria," accuses the PYD and its autonomous administration in the region of grave abuses. "By deliberately demolishing civilian homes, in some cases razing and burning entire villages, displacing their inhabitants with no justifiable military grounds, the Autonomous Administration is abusing its authority and brazenly flouting international humanitarian law, in attacks that amount to war crimes," said Lama Fakih, senior crisis advisor at Amnesty. "In its fight against IS, the Autonomous Administration appears to be trampling all over the rights of civilians who are caught in the middle. We saw extensive displacement and destruction that did not occur as a result of fighting. This report uncovers clear evidence of a deliberate, co-ordinated campaign of collective punishment of civilians in villages previously captured by IS, or where a small minority were suspected of supporting the group."
In what is being called the worst terrorist attack in Turkey's history, two suicide blasts went off amid a peace rally in Ankara Oct. 10, killing some 100 and injuring more than tiwce as many. The rally was called by leftist groups that support the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) to demand an end to fighting between government forces and Kurdish rebels in the country's east. The rally brought together both Kurds and ethnic Turks. Witnesses told the BBC that police fired tear-gas on the shocked survivors "as soon as the bomb went off," and "would not let ambulances through." President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the blast a "loathsome" act of terrorism. But HDP leader Selahettin Demirtas blamed the Turkish state for the attack and condemned the government as "murderers" with blood on their hands.
We don't know if this is true, but the claim sheds some light on Russia's motivation (or at least justification) for its intervention in Syria. The Long War Journal reports Oct. 3, citing social media postings, that a small group of Crimean Tatars and other militants from the Russian-annexed peninsula, calling themselves the Crimean Jamaat, has pledged bayah (allegiance) to the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda's Syrian franchise. The pledge was apparently announced by Nusra sympathizers on Twitter, and on the official social media site of Nusra's Sayfullah Shishani Brigade, which is largely comprised of Chechens. "Kataib Crimean Tartars under the leadership of Emir Ramadan al Krim [Crimean] pledged allegiance to al Qaeda in Sham and joined the Al Nusrah Front," read a statement on White Minaret, the Sayfullah Shishani site. The page is said to also include pictures of the group, reportedly based in Hama governorate.
Moscow's military intervention in Syria took a sobering turn this weekend as Turkey scrambled fighter jets, accusing Russian warplanes of violating its air space. Turkey has summoned the Russian ambassador over the matter, and NATO condemned the incursions as an "extreme danger." (Al Jazeera, CNN, Daily Sabah) Apart from the obvious dangers to world peace (such as it is), this development holds grim implications for the Syrian Kurds—the most effective military force on the ground against ISIS. Turkey, afraid that a Kurdish autonomous zone on its southern border will inspire its own Kurdish population to rise up, has been cynically labelling the anti-ISIS Syrian Kurds as "terrorists," and seeking to establish a military "buffer zone" in Kurdish territory in norther Syria. Since Turkey and Russia are bitter regional rivals, Moscow's intervention risks drawing the Kurds into the geopolitical game.
The response to the latest campus shoot-up is depressingly predictable, and it gets worse each time. Just heard some talking head on NPR (he's also been on Michigan's WPBN and Illinois' KHQA) intoning the "If You See Something, Say Something" mantra—this time regarding human beings exhibiting suspect behavior. So now it doesn't just apply to mysterious packages left unattended on subway platforms, but to people who seem "weird" or "off" or "loners" or "maladjusted" or "mentally ill" (all problematic labels). Rat-out culture is being extended and institutionalized, while the Gun Lobby makes it impossible to address the ubiquity of the instruments of death used in these routine massacres. (This latest punk had an AR-15 and five handguns.) So (count on it) within a year or two (maybe less), there will be round-ups and pre-emptive arrests of the socially awkward, the introverted, Asperger's diagnosees, etc... and you will still be able to walk into a gun show, slap down your money and walk out with an AR-15, no questions asked. So spare us your 100% bogus talk about "freedom," gun-fetishists.
Public sector workers in Cuzco, Peru, held a rally in the historic city Sept. 30 to protest plans by the national government to allow private administration of cultural and archaeological sites. The Cuzco regional government, whose territory includes such famous sites as Machu Picchu, Saqsaywaman and Ollantaytambo, has already announced its refusal to comply with the new policy. The national Culture Minister Diana Álvarez-Calderón says President Ollanta Humala's new Legislative Decree 1198 does not affect the fundamental nature of state properties but would help attract capital "in order to transform them into a point of development in its area of influence." She emphasized that many archaeological sites are currently unprotected and vulnerable to artifact thieves and traffickers, and environmental erosion. But Wilfredo Álvarez, leader of the Cuzco Departamental Workers Federation (FDTC), warned, "If the private sector administrates the archaeological centers, it will bring income for millionaries" rather than the Peruvian people. He said the FDTC would give President Humala a "prudent" amount of time to revoke the decree before undertaking an "indefinite" strike. (La Republica, Oct. 1; Peru This Week, El Comercio, Sept. 29; Andina, Sept. 28; La Republica, Sept. 27)
Russia launched its first air-strikes in Syria today. CNN informs us that the Russian Defense Ministry said warplanes targeted eight ISIS positions, "including arms, transportation, communications and control positions." But US Defense Secretary Ash Carter isn't buying it. "I want to be careful about confirming information, but it does appear that they were in areas where there probably were not ISIL forces," he told reporters. Carter is actually hedging his bets here. You don't have to have the Defense Intelligence Agency at your disposal to figure out that Russia is lying. The Institute for the Study of War notes that the first air-strikes were in Talbisah, north of Homs—controlled by the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham. As Vox points out, this is some 100 miles from the nearest ISIS-controlled territory. In fact, it is in a pocket of rebel-held territory just outside regime-controlled Homs. So the Russian aim is pretty clearly not to fight ISIS but to prop up the Bashar Assad dictatorship. Syria's state news agency SANA said the Russian strikes hit "ISIS dens in al-Rastan, Talbeisa, al-Zaafran, al-Tolol al-Humr, Aydon, Deir Fol and the area surrounding Salmia..." But these are all in Homs and Hama governorates—again, nowhere near ISIS territory to the north and east. Do the Russian Defense Ministry and SANA think we are incapable of looking at maps?
The fall of Afghanistan's northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban is making headlines—the first major city to be taken by the insurgents since the US invasion of 2001, and well outside their traditional stronghold in the country's south. A pitched battle to retake the city is now raging, and the US has launched air-strikes, causing God knows what carnage among the civilian inhabitants. But while the world media have been paying little attention, this didn't come out of nowhere. Kunduz city had been under siege for a month, and the Taliban have taken control of nearly all of Kunduz province, as well as much of the neighboring province of Takhar. This resurgence comes as the Taliban have broken off talks with the government under the new more hardline leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mansour. On the same day as the fall of Kunduiz, a suicide blast amid spectators at a volleyball match in Paktika province left nine dead and many more wounded. And hundreds of fighters claiming loyalty to ISIS attacked military checkpoints in Nangarhar province, in a coordinated assault that has left at least two soliders dead (probably many more).