The enclave of Afrin, 3rd can­ton in the North­ern Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Fed­er­a­tion, has been liv­ing under bom­bard­ment by Turk­ish F‑16 and tanks since the Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decid­ed on Jan­u­ary 20 to attack this peace­ful province that had man­aged to stay out of the mas­sacres and destruc­tions still ongo­ing in the rest of Syr­ia. His army is sup­ple­ment­ed by thou­sands of fight­ers (a fig­ure of 25 000 has been men­tioned)  from the Jihadist brigades of the SLA, Al Nos­ra, but also from ISIS, which means a return of ISIS in a region from which they had been oust­ed a good while ago.

By Mireille Court published on Rojinfo, fébruary 18 2018

But French and Euro­pean media bare­ly evoke this attack from time to time. Yet the bomb­ings of the Ghou­ta region by the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment are large­ly shown and com­ment­ed. Why such a dif­fer­ent  treat­ment of infor­ma­tion when less than 350 kilo­me­ters lie between the 2 regions? Why is the most minor of train derail­ments in deep­est Nebras­ka or a land­slide in Colum­bia the top­ic of tele­vi­sion news cov­er­age while the inva­sion of Afrin is a non-media event? Quite sim­ply per­haps, because there are no images.

In order to under­stand this silence and this lack of images we must go back to the abort­ed attempt at a coup d’é­tat in Turkey in July 2016. Oth­er than the dis­missals and mas­sive impris­on­ments that have affect­ed all sym­pa­thiz­ers of preach­er Gülen, or those deemed to be so, the media in all its man­i­fes­ta­tions, news­pa­pers, tv sta­tions or inter­net press were tar­get­ed by the regime. 156 médias, includ­ing all Kur­dish news­pa­pers and tv sta­tions, have been shut down since 2016 and one third of all the jour­nal­ists impris­oned across the world are in Turkey. Attempts at resis­tance by jour­nal­ists such as the protest against the clos­ing of the dai­ly Özgür Gün­dem, in order to defend plu­ral­ism and free­dom of the press, earned jour­nal­ists express­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty imme­di­ate arrests under the accu­sa­tion of “sup­port­ing terrorism”.

On Feb­ru­ary 16, three famous Turk­ish jour­nal­ists, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilı­cak were sen­tenced to manda­to­ry life impris­on­ment, the heav­i­est pos­si­ble sen­tence since the Turk­ish pres­i­dent has not rein­stat­ed the death penal­ty yet. Their crime ? In a TV pro­gram broad­cast on the eve of the attempt­ed putsch, they are said to have crit­i­cized the author­i­ties includ­ing the pres­i­dent him­self, thus send­ing “a sub­lim­i­nal mes­sage of sup­port to the putschists”, accord­ing to the pros­e­cu­tor. An accu­sa­tion and a sen­tence that are more rem­i­nis­cent of the witch­craft tri­als held in Salem in 1692 than of the nor­mal func­tion­ing of jus­tice in a democracy.

The Ger­mano-Turk­ish jour­nal­ist Deniz Yük­sel, Die Welt cor­re­spon­dent, was impris­oned with­out tri­al for a year and owed his lib­er­a­tion sole­ly to the heavy pres­sure applied by Ger­man diplo­ma­cy and by Angela Merkel in per­son on the same day. Deniz Yük­sel had dared report on com­pro­mis­ing leaks about the Min­is­ter of Ener­gy, Berat Albayrak, who also hap­pens to be Recep Erdoğan’s son-in-law.

It is in this nox­ious atmos­phere that, on the eve of the launch­ing of the Turk­ish inva­sion in Afrin, jour­nal­ists still free received very strict direc­tives. They were warned they must “take nation­al inter­ests into account” and at all times “remind of the care tak­en by the armed forces not to harm civil­ians”   and «avoid news that might raise the morale of the PKK/PYD”.   Thus cov­er­age of the offen­sive is pro­vid­ed by a select­ed Turk­ish press, already gagged in any event. As for the inter­na­tion­al media, they are almost absent. For­eign TV crews are kept from enter­ing the ter­ri­to­ry and even  jour­nal­ists for the writ­ten press, cov­er­ing the attack from the bor­der, have lit­tle infor­ma­tion oth­er than that dis­tilled by the Turk­ish army’s press ser­vice. « Jour­nal­ism is prac­ti­cal­ly nonex­is­tent in the oper­a­tional zone” says Erol Onderoglu, Reporters With­out Bor­ders’ rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Turkey.

With one excep­tion, how­ev­er, that of Robert Fisk, who, on the strength of his very good rela­tions with the Bachar Al Assad regime, was able to reach Afrin and wrote a series of three reportages for « The Inde­pen­dent ». Three aston­ish­ing arti­cles in which, writ­ing in the first per­son, he relates his per­son­al impres­sions on a war that is not real­ly tak­ing place since, accord­ing to him, every­thing is calm in Afrin where “it is hard to know what the YPG are fight­ing for” — title of one of his arti­cles where he presents a doc­tor in a hos­pi­tal as “an offi­cial of the YPG”… Noth­ing very com­pro­mis­ing for Turkey up to that point, except he then com­mits the unfor­giv­able and writes an arti­cle the title of which des­ig­nates civil­ians, babies, as the first vic­tims of this war. The reac­tion from the Turk­ish side is not long in com­ing and a jour­nal­ist in the wide­ly cir­cu­lat­ed Sabah denounces him in her col­umn titled “The yel­low jour­nal­ism of Robert Fisk” as « an instru­ment of PKK pro­pa­gan­da and of its Syr­i­an branch the PYD”. She reproach­es him for not con­sult­ing “any Turk­ish sources, whether offi­cial or not, before writ­ing his arti­cle”, men­tions in pass­ing the doc­tor as a source “who does not deny his affil­i­a­tion with a ter­ror­ist group, the PYD” and does not hes­i­tate in declar­ing that « the main pur­pose of this oper­a­tion is to save the pop­u­la­tion of Afrin from the oppres­sion of the YPG”. Of course, deny­ing the 180 civil­ian deaths list­ed thus far is dif­fi­cult, but the expla­na­tion is sim­ple, she quotes the Turk­ish Prime Min­is­ter, Binali Yıldırım, who declared that « the civil­ians were tar­get­ed by the YPG, not by the Turk­ish armed forces.” The bombs from the F‑16s and the tanks are not the ones killing the civil­ians, the Peo­ple’s Defense Units, the YPG are the cul­prits, accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment and the jour­nal­ists fol­low­ing order, the only voic­es autho­rized to express them­selves on the oper­a­tion cyn­i­cal­ly labelled “Olive branch”.

This total stran­gle­hold on infor­ma­tion great­ly com­pli­cates an under­stand­ing of what is hap­pen­ing on the ground. Accord­ing to Rus­sia Today (RT), an agree­ment failed between the regime and the YPG in order for the Syr­i­an army to inter­vene and push back the Turk­ish inva­sion. The Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment demand­ed the dis­arm­ing of the YPG in exchange for its help, an unac­cept­able con­di­tion for the defend­ers of Afrin. In the mean­time, the nation­al­ist pro­pa­gan­da of the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment was in full swing, heat­ing to the boil­ing point a pub­lic opin­ion already con­di­tioned by one-way infor­ma­tion, with few voic­es speak­ing up abroad to denounce this drift. Between juicy eco­nom­ic con­tracts and rival­ries among the great pow­ers, the fate of democ­ra­cy and of free­doms in the region do not seem to weigh much, and the reac­tions to the smash­ing under the bombs of the fem­i­nist, mul­ti­eth­nic and demo­c­ra­t­ic project of this can­ton of Roja­va will go unno­ticed, since there are no images.

Mireille Court
Video reporter

Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges

Afrin : La guerre sans images, on RojIn­fo

Vous pouvez utiliser, partager les articles et les traductions de Kedistan en précisant la source et en ajoutant un lien afin de respecter le travail des auteur(e)s et traductrices/teurs. Merci.Kedistan’ın tüm yayınlarını, yazar ve çevirmenlerin emeğine saygı göstererek, kaynak ve link vererek paylaşabilirisiniz. Teşekkürler.
Ji kerema xwere dema hun nivîsên Kedistanê parve dikin, ji bo rêzgirtina maf û keda nivîskar û wergêr, lînk û navê malperê wek çavkanî diyar bikin. Spas.
You may use and share Kedistan’s articles and translations, specifying the source and adding a link in order to respect the writer(s) and translator(s) work. Thank you.
Por respeto hacia la labor de las autoras y traductoras, puedes utilizar y compartir los artículos y las traducciones de Kedistan citando la fuente y añadiendo el enlace. Gracias.
KEDISTAN on EmailKEDISTAN on FacebookKEDISTAN on TwitterKEDISTAN on Youtube
Le petit mag­a­zine qui ne se laisse pas caress­er dans le sens du poil.