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After more than six days of fight­ing against an ISIS attack aimed at facil­i­tat­ing a prison mutiny allow­ing ter­ror­ist detainees to escape from prison in Hasakah, the Autonomous Admin­is­tra­tion of North and East Syr­ia (AANES) announced the sit­u­a­tion was under control.

This announce­ment of a vic­to­ry against ISIS match­es to the day that of the recap­ture of Kobanê, which had launched the harsh strug­gle to the death against the Islam­ic State, push­ing it back into its last strongholds.

The West seems to have turned the page already, more or less del­e­gat­ing the ‘solv­ing of prob­lems’ to Rus­sia, Iran and Turkey, along with the Syr­i­an regime, now con­sid­ered almost as the kind of enti­ty one can asso­ciate with.

The so-called Astana agree­ments and the Amer­i­can with­draw­al — save for a few spe­cial forces and a mea­gre pres­ence keep­ing an eye on fos­sile resources — have left the autonomous region exposed to every geopo­lit­i­cal ambi­tion imag­in­able. To be clear, this is not meant as deplor­ing the absence of an occu­py­ing mil­i­tary pres­ence, but of the absence of inter­na­tion­al recog­ni­tion for the autonomous enti­ty, of its full exis­tence, of its com­pe­tence to par­tic­i­pate in the launch of the recon­struc­tion of a Syr­ia cleared of its civ­il war­mon­gers and acknowl­edg­ing the autonomies bestowed upon it. The urgency in this regard is the main­te­nance of a peace imposed on the bel­liger­ent forces in the region. These agree­ments do not open a road in this direc­tion, and the with­draw­al of the coali­tion does even less in this regard.

The dis­ap­pear­ance of ISIS whose appar­ent dis­so­lu­tion as Islam­ic State was praised by every­one, although it nev­er dis­ap­peared as such from the region, and for good rea­son: even after the phys­i­cal elim­i­na­tion of their his­toric leader, Jihadist groups were sig­nalled spo­rad­i­cal­ly through their attacks and most­ly, through the tens of thou­sands of for­mer com­bat­ants detained in var­i­ous pris­ons and camps. Among them, Jihadist mer­ce­nar­ies from fifty dif­fer­ent nation­al­i­ties world­wide, almost none of these coun­tries want­i­ng them back on its own soil.

In Europe, we are thus wit­ness­ing the push­ing back of refugees from Irak and Syr­ia who have fled this war or its con­se­quences and, at the same time, Euro­pean nation­als who fought with the Islam­ic State are not brought back for judg­ment. The work accom­plished against ISIS at a high cost in loss of lives has no val­ue in the eyes of the West, despite the fact these pop­u­la­tions pro­tect­ed them against the exten­sion of a plague, vic­to­ries over which are com­mem­o­rat­ed at reg­u­lar intervals.

To each his own and the Jihadists will be well guard­ed being the sub­stance of the West­ern atti­tude to the ques­tion. And that is pre­cise­ly the prob­lem that was brought to the light of day in the lat­est events in Hasakah.

Is it the Autonomous Authority’s sole respon­si­bil­i­ty to take charge indef­i­nite­ly of pris­on­ers with­out judge­ment, of hun­dreds of thou­sands of refugees, all with  the lim­it­ed means of an econ­o­my under great duress due to a block­ade imposed both by the Syr­i­an regime, Turkey and the neigh­bour­ing Kur­dish enti­ty in Irak.  The slow drip of human­i­tar­i­an aid is sub­ject to unend­ing nego­ti­a­tions around this block­ade. Under­stand­ably, this is a huge thorn in the side for Rojava.

This very weak­ness was exploit­ed and brought under attack dur­ing these days by a coali­tion of var­ied inter­ests, hav­ing as com­mon fea­ture the will to see the dis­ap­pear­ance of the demo­c­ra­t­ic expe­ri­ence con­duct­ed in North­east­ern Syr­ia, of the frag­ile thread of hope held out by Roja­va in this high­ly-cov­et­ed region.

For all the heavy toll in human lives — the dead and wound­ed in the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic forces and inte­ri­or secu­ri­ty forces (Asay­ish), civil­ians caught in the fight­ing in the first day, guards and hostages, sev­er­al of which were killed and, sev­er­al Jihadists, both pris­on­ers and assailants — one can say that for its insti­ga­tors, this attack ful­filled its aims: allow­ing for the escape of lead­ers and gang mem­bers of the Islam­ic State and estab­lish­ing exchanges of ser­vices among all the par­ties want­i­ng the destruc­tion of the autonomous enti­ty in North­east­ern Syr­i­an, each for its own interests.

In the last few days, the Syr­i­an regime behaved as a qua­si-ally of ISIS and of Turkey, by remov­ing its con­trols over zones required for cir­cu­la­tion and allow­ing for escapes. Turkey once again bombed var­i­ous strate­gic points, includ­ing the axis indis­pens­able to send­ing rein­force­ments for the FDS in Hasakah. On its own side, the Irak Kur­dish enti­ty did not lift its blockade.

On the ground, units of British and Amer­i­can spe­cial forces were the only ones avail­able to see that the FDS could make use of the mil­i­tary equip­ments against the attack and the mutinies. One can  imag­ine this as more of a log­i­cal mil­i­tary sol­i­dar­i­ty against ISIS than some­thing based on polit­i­cal deci­sions deliv­ered from on high. The rem­nants of the coali­tion would have had a hard time explain­ing to the world a total iner­tia in the face of the attack.

And what can we say about the way in which these events were relayed across the world.

This was men­tioned in a press release. The French trans­la­tion appears on the web­site Roja­va-Résis­tance and trans­lates as fol­lows in English:

With the start of the attack by the Islam­ic State against a large deten­tion cen­ter in Hasakah, we, as YPG Inter­na­tion­al (inter­na­tion­al­ists from the world over) are involved on the ground and fol­low media all over the world. At a time when a del­e­ga­tion from the Tal­iban Jihadist organ­i­sa­tion is being received in Nor­way for meet­ings with the EU, meet­ings described by the media as “democ­ra­ti­sa­tion”, we are dis­mayed by the media por­tray­al giv­en of the Syr­i­an North East and the Syr­i­an Demo­c­ra­t­ic Forces.

The FDS dom­i­nat­ed by the Kurds” — France 24

The FDS direct­ed by the Kurds” Al Jazzra

The aggres­sion occurred in an estab­lish­ment con­trolled by the Kurds” Le Monde

Islam­ic State com­bat­ants attempt­ed to escape from a Kur­dish prison” BBC News

Most of the Arab detainees were held with­out charges or tri­al, feed­ing resent­ment in trib­al mem­bers  who accuse the Kurds of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion, an accu­sa­tion denied by the forces led by the Kurds” NBC News

Many West­ern media cov­ered the sit­u­a­tion and the attempt­ed escape by the Islam­ic State in Hasakah and all of them seemed to use a sim­i­lar pat­tern of dis­in­for­ma­tion and point­ed omis­sion. The sim­i­lar­i­ty in the errors com­mit­ted in these arti­cles along with the delib­er­ate lies spread by the Islam­ic State ren­der the sit­u­a­tion that much more worrisome.

These arti­cles do not take into account the fact that the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion com­pos­ing the Autonomous Admin­is­tra­tion of North­east­ern Syr­ia is Ara­bic. In an explain­er pub­lished by the Roja­va Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter in May 2020, it was men­tioned that the FDS were com­posed of more than 50% Arabs. Like­wise, the Arabs par­tic­i­pate at all lev­els of the Autonomous Admin­is­tra­tion. When we con­tact­ed and spoke with sev­er­al com­bat­ants engaged in the oper­a­tion against this attempt­ed escape, unsur­pris­ing­ly, many of them were Arabs. This is not sur­pris­ing since the Arabs have been sub­ject­ed to the same wounds as their Kur­dish com­pa­tri­ots dur­ing the years of ISIS tyran­ny. They are just as deeply moti­vat­ed in pro­tect­ing their land.

These cov­er­ages are the finest gift one can make to the pro­pa­gan­dists of the Islam­ic State who have always attempt­ed to tell the tale of racial divi­sion between peo­ple who, togeth­er, suf­fered the ter­ri­ble con­se­quences of the Islam­ic State’s advance and who expelled the Jihadists at the cost of many mar­tyrs. Pre­sent­ing the FDS as Kur­dish forces is not only an unfor­giv­able offence against these Arabs, Assyr­i­ans and Arme­ni­ans who gave and con­tin­ue giv­ing their lives in this strug­gle, it is also a pro­pa­gan­da argu­ment for the Islam­ic State.

Hasakah prison itself, oper­at­ing under the extreme­ly severe embar­go imposed on North­east­ern Syr­ia, can­not meet secu­ri­ty norms of a mod­ern prison. It was not built for that but sim­ply mod­ernised in order to hold 5 000 pris­on­ers from the Islam­ic State, a solu­tion the FDS have described on numer­ous occa­sions to the inter­na­tion­al coali­tion as unadapt­ed in the long term. The role and ulti­mate respon­si­bil­i­ty of the inter­na­tion­al forces are most per­ti­nent because once again, con­trary to West­ern media cov­er­age, the pop­u­la­tion in the pris­ons con­tains in fact up to 2 000 detainees from West­ern coun­tries. For us, YPG Inter­na­tion­al, the refusal of West­ern nations to take on the respon­si­bil­i­ty for their crim­i­nals who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the dam­ages is unacceptable.

More­over, we find it most impor­tant to point out what the West­ern press refus­es to men­tion. Dur­ing this attempt­ed escape, rein­force­ments sent to Hasakah were tar­get­ed for hits by Turk­ish drones. At the same time, the Islam­ic State’s main vic­tims, the Êzidis of Sin­jar, were bombed once again by Turkey, a mem­ber-coun­try of NATO, dur­ing an air strike on the same day.

We wish West­ern press agen­cies to be more cau­tious and respon­si­ble in their cov­er­age of events in the region. Pre­sent­ing the real­i­ty on the ground would help in sur­mount­ing exist­ing prej­u­dices in the region and would help in find­ing a solu­tion for all of Syria. 

For those fol­low­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions about last week’s attack on social net­works — and Twit­ter in par­tic­u­lar —  could eas­i­ly see how a num­ber of state­ments tend­ed to cor­rob­o­rate the notion that “the Kurds were vio­lat­ing human rights”, these state­ments appear­ing both on the accounts of pseu­do organ­i­sa­tions keep­ing an eye on human rights, relay­ing “from the inte­ri­or” images and com­ments by muti­neers, as well as the com­ments by “judi­cious com­men­ta­tors” under­lin­ing the “chaot­ic response by the Kurds”. One “French jour­nal­ist” even used videos show­ing indi­vid­ual inter­na­tion­al­ists fight­ing with the FDS, although it is well known how ISIS and West­ern ser­vices attempt to locate them. Oth­ers denounced the hold­ing of “chil­dren detainees threat­ened by Kur­dish shoot­ing,” while omit­ting to men­tion that the chil­dren were used as human shields by armed muti­nees, as were some civil­ians held pris­on­er against their will since no one want­ed to repa­tri­ate them, as we know only too well.

You could have thought that, sud­den­ly, a num­ber of news desks had “spon­ta­neous­ly” adopt­ed the pro­pa­gan­da dis­tilled for ages by the Turk­ish regime against Roja­va. Unless it was a way of refer­ring to the ques­tion as “an end­less con­flict in the Mid­dle East”, so far away we didn’t need to be con­cerned about it.

I ful­ly under­stand that the major­i­ty of so-called news chan­nels con­stant­ly del­e­gat­ing “spe­cial­ists” with books to sell no longer pay true cor­re­spon­dents but here, we find the scent of an ide­ol­o­gy unfavourable to Roja­va which is start­ing to waft through the cor­ri­dors. Each and every one keep­ing a zem­mour on the fires.

And from the onset of the attack, the fact the fol­low­ing pho­to imme­di­ate­ly cir­cu­lat­ed in all infor­ma­tion net­works along with an often-deroga­to­ry con­no­ta­tion on the “mis­treat­ments” did not help mat­ters. This anony­mous pho­to hav­ing been shared tens of thou­sands of times, it is hard to iden­ti­fy its ini­tial source. But it con­tributed to the poor iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of what was tru­ly occur­ring and, most­ly served the dis­in­for­ma­tion want­ed by some.


Nor were there any com­ments on the extreme reac­tiv­i­ty of the FDS, of fire­fight­ers and inte­ri­or secu­ri­ty forces despite the fact this was deci­sive in defeat­ing ISIS. These forces, recent­ly reor­gan­ised and demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly con­ceived, tilt­ed the bal­ance of events. A pyra­mi­dal and bureau­crat­ic mil­i­tary force would not nec­es­sar­i­ly have shown the same reac­tiv­i­ty and abil­i­ty to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tions. Anoth­er ques­tion to exam­ine for libertarians.

Despite being van­quished mil­i­tary, one can still say that ISIS met its objectives.

They fine tuned com­plic­i­ties in order to move men and mate­ri­als close to the prison, obtained coop­er­a­tions in infor­ma­tion ser­vices and checked on con­verg­ing inter­ests with the Syr­i­an and Turk­ish regimes. These same regimes, for their part, realised this “cir­cum­stan­tial ally” could be use­ful to them.

We still do not have the num­bers nor the names of the escapees. But here again, it con­sti­tutes a mes­sage sent by ISIS.

So, again of course, kind souls in the West will say this was noth­ing but a jolt and that every­thing is under con­trol. Minds are on oth­er issues, in Ukraine or on the elec­toral cam­paign, so “let the Kurds man­age on their own”.

At the inter­na­tion­al lev­el, one can only notice that the habit is ingrained of not tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the real­i­ty of the AANES and of the autonomous region. This lat­est occur­rence pro­vid­ed  a strik­ing demon­stra­tion of it. Let alone in ignor­ing its diver­si­ty, except as a Kur­dish pop­u­la­tion des­ig­nat­ed as want­i­ng to dom­i­nate the process. “The YPG ter­ror­ists” as described by the Turk­ish nation­al­ist regime, and even in the ranks of the Kur­do-Ira­ki Barzani party.

At the same time, Eng­lish jus­tice has just con­demned activists who held up signs con­sid­ered as “ter­ror­is­tic” dur­ing a demon­stra­tion, these con­dem­na­tions cre­at­ing pos­si­ble jurispru­dence, when these same signs and flags are log­i­cal­ly bran­dished in all sol­i­dar­i­ty ini­tia­tives with Rojava.

Although pop­u­la­tions in Roja­va were cel­e­brat­ing the vic­to­ry in Kobanê while cel­e­brat­ing that of the FDS in Hasakah on Wednes­day, there is no doubt that this attack was also aimed at divid­ing the pop­u­la­tions, giv­en the already exist­ing “feel­ing of inse­cu­ri­ty” caused by the bomb­ings from Turk­ish drones and per­ma­nent announce­ments of immi­nent attacks on this or that part of the ter­ri­to­ry. If one adds to this the way fortress Europe react­ed to the arrival of migrants manip­u­lat­ed by Belarus, and the des­per­ate word of mouth mes­sages spread in the pop­u­la­tions, one can imag­ine that the impact for ISIS could be even stronger than expected.

Fol­low­ing on and added to the war over water, the block­ages and even the pan­dem­ic, the AANES has before it a heavy polit­i­cal task for which sup­port is rare indeed.

This is why it is urgent to relaunch sol­i­dar­i­ty around Roja­va, not in its appear­ance, but at the sub­stan­tial lev­el of what this ongo­ing polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence con­sists of, and why if must be defend­ed, with­out avoid­ing nec­es­sary crit­i­cism. Flag wav­ing will not be enough when faced with the surge of every pos­si­bly vari­ety of sov­er­eignists dis­card­ing transna­tion­al per­spec­tives and stok­ing nation­al­is­tic hatreds and  indrawing.

There is an urgent need to sup­port the AANES’ demands con­cern­ing the repa­tri­a­tion and judg­ment of ISIS detainees, and that the mat­ter be of pri­ma­ry impor­tance at the inter­na­tion­al lev­el. Obvi­ous­ly, this also requires as a min­i­mum the recog­ni­tion of the autonomous insti­tu­tion, and its pres­ence at all negotiations.

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Translation by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Daniel Fleury
Let­tres mod­ernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots poli­tiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…