Mar 30, 2017

Rojava and disinformation

Disinformation is omnipresent. The propaganda war is in full swing in parallel with that in the field. This war of propaganda is in full activity against the Rojava and its armed forces.

Sunday, February 5, 2017 12:00 PM
NEWS DESK - Raphaël Lebrujah*

Disinformation is omnipresent. The propaganda war is in full swing in parallel with that in the field. This war of propaganda is in full activity against the Rojava (part of Kurdistan located in Syria) and its armed forces. It is impossible to treat all poisonings but we will see the main ones that always reappear in the interest of certain agendas, most often when the Rojava and assimilated record victories.

"Syrian Kurds practice ethnic cleansing"

This accusation is one of the most recurring and often repeated. These allegations against the Kurds of Rojava date from yesterday and came mainly from Turkey, which is also a specialist in ethnic cleansing against the Kurds by razing to the ground in the 1990s between 3000 and 4000 Kurdish villages. They became institutionalized when Amnesty International published a report which accused the main Syrian Kurdish party PYD of practicing ethnic cleansing against Turkmen and Arabs. This report was largely repeated. Yet many questions arise in view of its realization process. Let's start with one of its editors are close to the AKP, the Islamist Party of Erdoğan known for its ability to produce large amount of intoxication. Then the question of sources arises quickly. In the video of Amnesty that accompanies his report. Vice News then went to see the "victims" of forced displacements in Turkey. It is clear that its members support Daesh.Before telling you about my work there, it is important to look at the charges and the context. They include 14 small towns and villages of which two villages would have been destroyed after fighting with Daesh and 12 places where populations would be prevented from returning after capture by the Kurdish majority militia of the PYD. Tal Abyad, the main area where ethnic cleansing would have taken place, and a small post-border town with Turkey where Turkmen, Arabs and Kurds live. Under the various pan-Arab regimes, ethnic cleansing was carried out against the Kurds in the region. Many Kurds had been driven out of this area by the authorities and replaced by Arab settlers who had recovered the land. This area is under high tension for a long time due to its policies.Therefore, when I visited Rojava in mid-December 2015 until mid-January 2016, I conducted my investigation. For that I intersected the answers of the authorities of Rojava in comparing them with those of the report. I also visited the Tal Abyad area. Then I interviewed people directly there. The city had been taken by the YPG / YPJ for nearly 6 months during my visit and it had been two months since Amnesty had published its report. I did an interview with an Arab MP. The latter explained to me that they inquired from Daesh's people and that his sources were well selected. At Tal Abyad itself, when I went there I felt a great hostility towards the westerner that I was. I did not feel that in the rest of Rojava. A foreign fighter enlightened me on the matter. Indeed, certain regions remained uninhabited (but other regions supposedly repopulated, the inhabitants had returned since the report of Amnesty). Notably Suluk in the Tal Abyad region, he explained to me that he had seen extremely aggressive demonstrations on the spot against the YPG Kurdish-Arab troops. The rallying cries of the Islamists "Allah Akbar" were shouted and the demonstrations degenerated. The demonstrators accused the PYD of disbelief. I also learned that Tel Abyad and its surroundings had a flourishing trade under Daesh. Tel Abyad became a commercial crossroads with Turkey, making the wealth of the Turkmen people especially. Indeed, Daesh cherished especially the Turkmens. Tel Abyad was the first city taken by Daesh in Syria in 2013 and Daesh has close links with the Turkish state, which has strongly supported it. In return, Daesh was to favor the Turkmen population. A large number of Arabs also supported Daesh because they were mostly settlers and they were afraid that Kurdish majority militias would recover the land they had stolen from them in the past. Moreover, public lynchings of Kurds or Resistants were common. Largely local populations supported the jihadists in view of the interests that bind them to Daesh. That said, it did not explain why some populations could not return. And I realized at that moment there were three reasons, two assumed by the authorities and the other one a bit difficult to admit at the time. The first was that some villages were riddled with mines dangerous for all inhabitants coming back. The second, it was too close to the combat zones. But the last was that many dormant cells were hiding among the hostile populations. The front was still unstable and the asayish (the Rojava police) were blocked in their investigations because of strong local support, taking advantage of the complicity of many inhabitants who helped infiltrated Daesh members. A month after my departure, Daesh launched a massive assault and almost took over the city because of the many sleeping cells that awoke. At the same time I was in Rojava and a few days before my visit to the city, attacks with Kalashnikov took place against the asayish causing many deaths. Bringing people back without having led the necessary investigations was tantamount to exposing the Rojava fighters to significant risks.Therefore it was a cleansing of jihadists and not an ethnic one. Since then, the majority of people have returned to their homes. Aranews made a report in a Turkmen village which had supposedly been cleansed ethnically. The inhabitants of Suluk also returned, finally those who did not flee because of their complicity with Daesh or who are not guilty of abominable crimes. In the wake of the defeats of the jihadists, the populations finally abandoned Daesh. For the two villages destroyed, the reason is simple: there had been fierce battles that have led to their destruction and tens of Kurdish villages have also suffered the same fate. I also questioned the Kurds of Tel Abyad to find out what they thought and their answer did not surprise me. Some were angry with the authorities for not giving them back the land of the Arabs that had been stolen from them. Indeed some Arab settlers had settled there for more than 50 years and to be able to win the Arab populations the latter were not going to be chased in their turn. In fact, through political pragmatism, the Kurds want and must at all costs rally the non-Kurdish populations of Rojava if they will one day weigh throughout Syria. Thus some injustices persist even if the authorities seek a compromise with the settlers. Now why this report in October 2015? Why not before? Why Turkey did not continue as before by accusing the PYD without the support of international institutions? The answer is in the report. This one advocates the stop of deliveries of arms of the international powers to the multi-ethnic forces of Rojava in its fight against Daesh! October 2015 corresponds to the creation of the FDS (Syrian Forces Democracies, military force of which the YPG / YPJ are the main component) and the first deliveries of weapons of the Western forces to the troops with Kurdish majority. This calendar match is not due to chance. The publication is perfectly scheduled with the calendar of Rojava enemies who had an interest in undermining collaboration with Western powers.

"PYD is allied with the Damascus regime"

This allegation mostly emanates from the Islamist opposition. It is the main argument to prevent an independent Rojava delegation from participating in international negotiations for a peace process. It accuses the PYD of collaborating with the Syrian regime and being his Trojan horse. Notably during the battle of Aleppo where they are accused by the Islamist rebels, the same ones who has bombed them for years, of having collaborated with the regime. To add the regime does not deny and maintains the confusion. The YPG / YPJ denied any alliance or military operation common to the regime.The PYD and the regime avoid the confrontation but are not allies nevertheless. Both forces are forced to negotiate. The PYD defends itself from being on the side of those who recognize the autonomy of the Kurdish regions. All the armed factions of Syria have refused. As a result, they avoided the fighting until the summer of 2013. At that time, a military campaign was launched by the Syrian Islamist rebels with a majority of Sunni Arabs against the Kurdish regions. As Kurds could’nt and didn’t want to fight both the regime and the rebels, they begun a policy of relaxation with the regime to avoid a multiplication of fronts.The rebels argue that officials in the Kurdish regions are still paid by the regime and that the PYD buys weapons from the regime, failing to specify that it is the general functioning in many rebel areas where officials continue to be paid and where the Regime provides ammunition to some rebel groups to accentuate divisions. In reality, the record is empty and all the accusations that are launched by these groups can be opposed to them.In addition, the regime has systematically oppressed Kurds for decades, withdrew their nationality; if they were surprised to speak Kurdish, they were denounced. There were hundreds of thousands of stateless Kurds in Syria. The colonization of the Kurdish regions by the Sunni Arabs caused enormous damage with many spoliations of land, murders and other horrors. Kurds were by far the most oppressed minority in Syria, whose regime wanted their long-term assimilation or destruction.The isolation of the PYD at the national and international level has pushed him to compromise with the regime, jarring agreements, often snatched from the blood. Deadly fightings between the regime and the autonomous regions with a Kurdish majority took place. In the summer of 2013 the regime attacked the district of Sheikh Maqsoud in a murderous offensive that caused hundreds of deaths.In 2016, fightings in the cities of Qamishlo and Hassake in the extreme northeast of Syria also killed many people. So strange allies with whom the fighting degenerated very quickly into butchery, with an alike cold war smell. It should be added that Assad has always stated that he is against the proposed PYD federalism and that these regions will have a "temporary" autonomy.

"YPG / YPJ enlist child soldiers"

To put it clearly: yes there are child soldiers in the YPG / YPJ under international law. So what is disinformation about ? By its treatment very oriented and partial by certain organizations. They are not 10 years old children sent on the front line.One such organization that conveys these accusations is Human Rights Watch (HRW). The profile of child soldiers in the YPG / YPJ militias is varied. They are mostly teenagers between 15 and 17 years old. On front lines and due to the chaos engendered by war it is sometimes difficult to verify the age of aspirants in combat and it is not uncommon for these children to lie about their age in order to be recruited. Also, some commanders prefer to close their eyes on this phenomenon.They all volunteered for different reasons. For some, the YPG / YPJ are heroes. Indeed, the authorities of Rojava communicate enormously about the heroism of fallen martyrs, set up as examples for the whole society but also on the importance of engaging. So there are many young people who are eager to get involved.More rarely some girls flee patriarchy to engage YPJ. Notably to avoid forced marriage or violence. Although these practices are formally banned and vigorously combated, the ambient chaos makes it difficult to fight injustice. Consequently, they undertake to flee a situation of oppression. There are also young orphans or children in precarious situations who are supported by the YPG / YPJ.It should be noted that the minors recruited in the YPG / YPJ carry out tasks at the rear of the front and are not solicited to fight and go to the frontline.So it was not a systematic policy, but a combination of factors leading young people to commit themselves regarding an extreme social situation combined with the complicity or negligence of some commanders.
It is in this sense that the YPG / YPJ signed a demobilization agreement for all children. At a conference of the NGO "the call of Geneva", the YPG / YPJ signed an agreement with. ; this NGO which is linked to the UN seeks to work, among other things, on the protection and reintegration of child soldiers in the context of conflicts. Through them, the UN intervenes with representatives of non - state armed groups. In this context, the YPG / YPJ were cited as an example during the conference as part of the demobilization of child soldiers. YPG / YPJ were the only group participating in the conference where it has been proven that officers have been sanctioned for their failure to comply with the rules against the recruitment of child soldiers Now, the puzzle stems from the fact that often this information is not linked to the rest of the Syria problem. Indeed, the presence of children is quite low (several dozen YPG / YPJ) compared to the hundreds of child soldiers that are found among the "moderate" rebels who do not hesitate to recruit very young children. According to the UN, the first recruiter of child soldiers identified in Syria is Daesh with 75% effective, followed by Islamist opposition with 21% of the troops and around 1% for the Front Al Nusra. Islamist militia alone accounted for 97 per cent of Syrian child soldiers. Islamic opposition groups ("moderate" rebels) also included Al-Zinki brigade, by the execution of at least one child, accused of being a soldier of the regime. These same brigades have made statements about forbidding the recruitment of children but never applied. The comparison is inconsistent with the YPG / YPJ, which prohibits executions. It is important to emphasize that the majority of these previously quoted actors have not taken steps to demobilize these children see justify and openly defend that children can fight. The Rojava and the regime each represent about 1% of child soldiers mobilized.Most papers dealing about this issue rarely put it in perspective with the reality of the Syrian conflict, merely explaining that the YPG / YPJ recruit child soldiers without processing the information as a whole. In the end, they draw all attention to the tree that hides the forest.

"Rojava is a dictatorship controlled by the PYD"

This accusation comes from the Islamist opposition but especially from their Kurdish allies of the PDK. Read: Democratic Party of Kurdistan, based mainly in Kurdistan (Iraq) and their allies. (Media like Rudaw TV). The two Kurdish parties,PDK and the PYD, have an appalling relationship. Regularly the PDK, which controls the Iraqi side of the border, imposes a severe blockade on Rojava, sometimes even prohibiting supplies of food to starve their populations.The PDK and its allies have launched several disinformation campaigns against Rojava authorities. The latest is the one concerning the withdrawal of Sheikh Maqsoud by FDS in favor of the regime. Assertions widely denied by pro-regimes and SDS themselves. As for the TV channel Rudaw TV, she continues to explain with the aim To discredit it, that the "PKK" was withdrawing from Sheikh Maqsoud following a secret agreement that would allow the regime to regain full control of the city in exchange for weapons,.But it is not just a question of poisoning, indeed the PDK supports Turkey's intervention against the Kurds in Syria. He threatened to intervene militarily with his Peshmerga to dislodge the PKK, the YBS (Yezidi militia) from the pagan majority area of the Yezidis. These same Yezidis, who would have been slaughtered, saved by the intervention of the PKK, who came to rescue them and assist them to form their own militia, the YBS.This is in addition to acts of preparation for an armed struggle against the authorities of Rojava in Syria. Indeed, the PDK organized in 2013 dormant cells sharing its view in the canton of Cizré in order to overthrow the Rojava authorities by force. The plot had been foiled by the asayish (the Rojava police) at the last moment arresting 70 people. The latter ones have since been released and most have integrated the YPG despite the obvious preparation of armed attacks against the Rojava authorities. The aim was to leave the door open to the unity of the Kurds.
After this set of elements the members of the Syrian PDK were closely monitored by the asayish members, many arrests followed, or even expulsions of the Rojava for spying activities on behalf of the CNS (National Coalition Syrian predominantly Islamist at war with Rojava), corruption and acts of sabotage. At each arrest of one of its members, the PDK yells at the dictatorship and accuses the PYD of being at the head of a dictatorial regime in Rojava. It is of high interest to notice that the Islamists of the Idlib "emirate", which imposes an authoritarian dictatorship based upon sharia, repressing any opposition to their power, demanding religious uniqueness, take these accusations back to heart. These allegations are particularly daring from KDP who is organizing the establishment of a true dictatorship in Iraqi Kurdistan. The latter did not hesitate to shoot at the demonstrators who were asking the payment of the salaries of the officials. Several deaths are to be deplored. The PDK has arrested many opposition journalists in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as foreign volunteers fighting Daesh in Rojava.
 The leader of KDP and KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq), Massoud Barzani, refuses to leave power despite the fact he has already exceeded the legal limitation of mandates for several years. To do so, he blocked access to the KRG parliament to its president to prevent the election of a new leader of Iraqi Kurdistan; exercising power without any legitimacy or mandate. The majority of the assets of Iraqi Kurdistan are concentrated in the hands of his family and his allies, some now billionaires while many Kurds in Iraq die of hunger. In parallel, in Rojava, after 5 years of civil war I did not see anyone begging and everyone ate to their hunger, thanks in particular to free distributions of bread, Everyone had a place to live, though no humanitarian aid could reach Rojava. On the democratic system itself, I saw democratic assemblies held in every village and town. They elect their respective co-representatives, always a man and a woman, and decide the local and cantonal policy they want to lead. Christians, Arabs, Kurds debate peacefully.

I saw the parliament of Cizre meet and vote like any democratic assemblies, there are more than 50 organizations member of this parliament including 25 political parties or movements, with a very high participation rate of women (more than 40% of Present, far from our European parliaments). At the entrance you can find PYD, PUK and PDK newspapers. Opposition demonstrations took place without police repressing them violently. In a nutshell, all this looks like a Democracy.

“The SDS have nothing to do in Arab zones (Manbij, Shadadé, Raqqa ...)"

It is not uncommon for some media to say that Kurds have nothing to do in territories with an Arab majority. This accusation conceals a deeply racist reality towards the Kurds. Indeed, it is forgetting that the Kurds are also Syrians and that they are legitimate to fight on their territory! To explain this is to consider them as foreigners in their own country and to endorse the racist propaganda they have suffered.It is also important to point out that this statement is not made to the Turkish army which invades certain Kurdish and Arab zones between Jarabulus and Azaz in Syria. The Turkish army is not accused of ethnic cleansing when it has cleared a large part of the Kurdish populations of its areas who found refuge in Rojava in the silence of the international community. May this same army bring 10,000 Turkish Sunni Iraqis from Tal Afar to replace these Kurdish populations. It is a foreign invasion force and yet it is rarely criticized when it invades areas of Kurdish or Arab majority between Jarabulus and Azaz. When mostly Sunni Arab Islamist militia invaded the Kurdish areas, no one questioned whether it was normal for Arab-majority troops to occupy Kurdish areas. In reality, this only poses a problem when the troops with Syrian Kurdish majority take control of "Arab majority" zone. Strange conception of the ethnic question in Syria. Moreover it is also badly to know the complex history of Syria. Indeed, by ethnic cleansing, assimilation and colonization of the Kurdish territories, their settlements have been considerably reduced. In the Quai d'Orsay archives, foreigne intelligence tried to assess the ethnicity of Raqqa and its region in the 1930s. They estimated that 120,000 Kurds inhabited this region. Before the war, there were only 5,000 Kurds in Raqqa left out of a population of 400,000. This shows that these areas with an Arab majority have been stolen from the Kurds historically. Finally, the SDF is a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional force including Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, Syriacs, Christians, Armenians, Muslims, and Yezidis. This military force is much more representative of Syria in its diversity than the one it fights, mostly Arab and Sunni.

"Women fighting is for the camera, it is the men who decide in their place"

This remark hides a deep sexism and total ignorance, even a denial of the fight of the women in Rojava. Indeed, it is not the first time that some do not believe that women can free themselves from patriarchal oppression in this region of the world. On the other hand, the social organization of women in Rojava is very advanced. Much more than in our European democracies.Indeed, in addition to the mixed assemblies (called commune) which govern the lives of the inhabitants of Rojava, women meet in non-mixed communes, without the presence of men, to deliberate matters that concern them. Choose forms to fight against the injustices they suffer. These women communities, elected at the same time with the municipalities, elect their representatives in their turn. This democratic women organization of Rojava is called the women federation. This federation lay upon executive bodies such as the TEV-DEM or the legislative assemblies. The women federation has the right to oppose a veto to any public action concerning them, therefore no executive or legislative (or even judicial) decision can be taken without their consent. Women are equally represented on equal terms with men. Almost all elective positions have two co-leaders, one woman and one man. At any meeting, one of the two sexes must always be represented at least 40%.In the army, women have many achievements. They have their own chain of command, which is called the YPJ (Women's Defense Units), which is an autonomous branch within the YPG. When a person enlist with the YPG / YPJ, she is obliged to undergo an anti-patriarchal training for a week, given by a woman. Moreover, on the ground, women play a decisive role. They would represent 40% of YPG / YPJ workforce.The question of women is central to Rojava, which put them at the heart of the revolution. Indeed, in Rojava it is thought that to give freedom to society, women must be completely free. Otherwise the society can not be free. There it is said that it is the first revolution of mankind for women that are the center of many oppression.The same people who distillate the idea of these men-controlled women often forget that the Syrian opposition has virtually no female combatants. The regime also does not offer such a progressive alternative to this issue. Those we see on our screens as a curious phenomenon of women combatants is the result of a radical anti-patriarchal policy led by women.

"Kurds cannot win the war"

It is a common refrain often heard in the media. It implies that even if their cause is right, it is useless to support them because in the end the Kurds are always betrayed and lose. It is certain that the Kurds in their history have been betrayed many times. Nevertheless, this statement hides propaganda to discourage supporters or potential supporters of Rojava.Putting in perspective the struggle of the Kurds for their emancipation, as lost in advance is a choice motivated by precise goals. Indeed, when the same media explain to us in the meantime that Iraqi Kurdistan is virtually independent and introduce the Barzani family and his clan as good and respectable people, the question is never asked and disregarded, as if this spell put on the Kurds was reserved only to the fighters of the Rojava and the PKK. Definitely, there is a political choice that lies behind this pseudo-procrastination. It sounds like, "Ho the poor, they should stand on our side and do as their Iraqi friends, otherwise they will never succeed." Overall, this pessimistic prophecy is risky. Given the state of the different enemies of the Rojava one can frankly doubt that they will be able to succeed in fighting the forces of Rojava. Now Daesh is very weak and plays his survival against the FDS and not the reverse. The regime does not have the military means to regain the Rojava. The Islamist rebels are very weak and divided. Iraqi Kurdistan is largely divided and is a powder-keg where the PDK could explode, especially if attacking their Shengal Kurdish brothers, towards what he is heading. The Turkish army has no leadership, its high command has been widely purged and beheaded. It emerged from a very violent urban war against the PKK in cities where it took months to hunt hundreds of young people equipped with Kalashnikov. The operation against the Syrian city of Al bab in Daesh's hand turns to disaster. Turkish army had no othe solution but begging Russian strikes in support, its own aviation being unable to fulfill its role. The United States has dropped Turkey in this operation and prefer to support the Kurdish-majority troops against Daesh. In other words, the powers that oppose the Rojava are all very weak and do not have the means of their ambitions.

At the beginning of 2017, the FDS are again freeing up more zones, strengthening their partnerships with the great powers. Rojava seems in a position of strength to seize Raqqa. So far, Rojava has been the longest and most solid experience of Kurdish autonomy in modern history. Despite a precarious situation, Rojava remains solid and firm compared to its immediate environment.

“Voluntary ignorance and disinformation”

Voluntary ignorance lead thoughts in Syria and in particular about the Kurds. The current approach is often reduced to "PKK controlled area" not to mention the background and their project. We find almost nothing in the media about the positions and practices defended in Rojava.This indicates a lack of pluralism in the french media. The vast majority of journalists, experts or political representatives who are presented to us in France support the Islamist armed opposition, about which they silence or attenuate the excesses. Those who remain support the regime. No journalist, expert and political representative supporting the SDF and their emancipatory project for the oppressed, first women and minorities, are present on the radio, television sets and newspapers.People who know each other, who have attended the same schools and who share most of the same opinion, appear on television. This is due to a press that is not free. So to speak, the great majority is eaten by major financial and industrial groups with interests intimately linked to a post-colonial vision of the Middle East and the exploitation of its wealth.

The most shocking thing about my research and my work on Rojava. I did it because almost nobody did it in French (and even in English it is also missing) that even in reputable independent newspapers like Mediapart. Indeed, the plurality of debate on this issue has not been respected, effectively excluding the Kurdish community from thinking about a solution for Syria. For the simple reason that if Mediapart is financially independent, most journalists who write or comment on the Syrian issue are part of the same networks as the mainstream media on the Syrian issue. A demonstration of this phenomenon is the common writing of a book by Pierre Puchot from Mediapart and Romain Caillet. The latter broadcast on tweeter photographs taken by members of Daesh of beheaded Kurdish female combatants. He does not hide his opposition to the PYD (which he likens to the PKK). A strange choice of information, but this is not surprising when we know that his former sympathies were turned towards Al Qaeda. Under the pseudonym of Colonel Salafi, the latter does not hide his sympathies for the Islamist movement but not for "jihadist", Romain Caillet justifying himself in the following way: "I am no longer for jihad because I stand up against training young people to sacrifice themselves to die without first having acquired the basics of Islam. "So you may die in the name of Islam after having studied it. We understand now his sympathy for certain armed groups.This network of influence had an enormous impact on Mediapart in-depth analysis of this issue to the great disappointment of many readers. This is all the more ridiculous from the editors of Mediapart who are a priori positive on the pro-Kurdish HDP in Turkey the latter having exactly the same political project and the same ideology as the Rojava: Democratic Confederalism. This strange dissociation leads to nonsensical positions on Middle East issues. Notably the support to the Syrian rebellion pretending that the revolutionaries of 2011 always led the revolt without ever addressing their real political agenda and the consequences on the civilian populations on the ground. Going too far as to argue that the term Islamist does not mean anything, while many Syrian rebel groups claim it. One of the last midnight folly among many was giving the floor to Jean-Pierre Filiu during the fall of Aleppo, a man intimately linked to the Turkish embassy and its dictatorial interests. It is no longer a contradiction for them. It is important to point out that Pierre Puchot no longer works for Mediapart. He’d gone for his lack of impartiality and since Mediapart has a less international line on the Syrian issue. Perhaps it announces a positive change towards more pluralism.To conclude many have an interest in ignoring the Rojava and the democratic solutions they propose. It would be time for the rest of the independent press to wake up and the Rojava no longer be a desert of information and a bulimia of misinformation in public space. If we want this to happen, independent media, committed citizens must seize the issue. Groups around the world, notably in the United States and Europe, are forming around the ideas of the Kurds and their revolutionary and democratic ideals. The movement is in the process of reversing the process I describe, and information on Rojava, the battle for information will be one of the main nerves of war for these groups that are forming all across the West.