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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.

Hassaké

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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Lettres modernes à l’Université de Tours. Gros mots politiques… Coups d’oeil politiques…