The West has shamefully abandoned its Kurdish allies

Not for the first time, Kurds in Iraq and Syria are facing an uncertain future. In Syria, an estimated 150,000 people were displaced by fighting in the mostly Kurdish region of Afrin in the space of a few days this month. When the Turkish army, backed by Syrian rebel allies, rolled into the city of Afrin, Kurds fled in trucks and cars, their belongings piled high. For many it conjured up the memories of Kurdish suffering which some hoped was a thing of the past. In March of 1988 and 1991, Kurds fled Saddam Hussein’s brutal oppression, often seeking refuge in Turkey and Iran. The loss of Afrin marks a major

The mess in Syria is putting America’s credibility on the line

 Beirut ‘If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense,’ said Alice. ‘Nothing would be what it is because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?’ For the United States, and for the rest of us, Lewis Carroll is as good a guide as any to what is happening in northern Syria right now. Turkey — America’s Nato ally — has sent tanks rolling across the border to attack the Kurds, America’s ally against Isis. Thus the United States finds itself supporting both sides in the same war. You see? Some

‘Kurdexit’ would make Brexit look strong and stable

Last week, American, British and UN diplomats tried to persuade the Kurds in Iraq to delay their referendum on independence. This high-profile intervention came amid a swirl of fiery rhetoric from other actors, especially Iran. The diplomats haven’t convinced the Kurdistani leadership, however, and so the vote will happen a week today – barring some last minute deal. The diplomats argued that the referendum will divide those fighting Daesh and destabilise the region. The Kurds argued that political divisions at home or with Baghdad have not hampered fighting Daesh. Besides, Kurdistani leaders are seeking a popular mandate for negotiating an amicable divorce with Baghdad over five or even ten years,

For Iraq’s Kurds, independence looks tantalisingly close

Next month, Iraq’s Kurds head to the polls in an eagerly-awaited independence referendum. Ahead of the vote, on September 25th, the country’s Kurdistan Regional Government is searching for inspiration from abroad. Brexit, unsurprisingly, is an obvious pick; many Kurds are hoping that Kurdexit could – as with Britain’s shock departure from the EU – finally become a reality. Yet for all the parallels between the two movements, the champions of Brexit are lukewarm in their support for the Kurdish cause. Boris Johnson said that Brexit was ‘about the right of the people of this country to settle their own destiny’. He was somewhat colder on the issue of Kurdish independence.

Playing for high stakes

Now that even candidates for President of the United States can rise up from the undead dregs of reality television, it comes as no surprise to read that the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq owes its origins to a conclave of television execs. In 2008, Channel 4 and the independent production company Raw TV took upon themselves to campaign for a youth orchestra in Iraq, focusing their programme around the story of Zuhal Sultan, a 17-year-old Iraqi pianist. Later that same year, the Scottish conductor Paul MacAlindin was savouring a fish-and-chip supper in his favourite Edinburgh pub when his eye caught a headline in the Glasgow Herald about the same

Courageous Kemp

Before I set about reviewing Ross Kemp: The Fight Against Isis (Sky 1), I thought I’d have a glance to see whether other critics had been as impressed as I was. Clearly the flip groovester from the Guardian — who opened, inevitably, with a jaunty quip about Grant from EastEnders — had seen a very different documentary from the one I saw. Otherwise, he could not have failed to be moved by Kemp’s heartbreaking interview with the Yazidi woman from Sinjar who’d recently escaped from Isis. Her 10-year-old daughter squatted beside her — only survivor of the five children she had had when Isis captured her town. The eldest (11)

The trouble with the Kurds

On Nawroz, the Persian New Year, last March, Isis sent a holiday greeting to the Kurds. They published several videos of Peshmerga fighters, now prisoners, kneeling, handcuffed and wearing the usual orange jumpsuits. In one video, a prisoner is shot in the back of the head; the rest have their heads sawn off with a knife. In a deliberate twist, no doubt relished by the leadership of the so-called Islamic State, the killers were themselves Kurds. ‘You all know the punishment for anyone who fights the Islamic State,’ says one. ‘It is death.’ The executioners did not wear masks and were quickly identified by Kurdish intelligence. Retribution followed. In an

Portrait of the week | 18 February 2016

Home David Cameron, the Prime Minister, spent time in Brussels before a meeting of the European Council to see what it would allow him to bring home for voters in a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. The board of HSBC voted to keep its headquarters in Britain. Sir John Vickers, who headed the Independent Commission on Banking, said that Bank of England proposals for bank capital reserves were ‘less strong than what the ICB recommended’. The annual rate of inflation, measured by the Consumer Prices Index, rose to 0.3 per cent in January, compared with 0.2 per cent in December. Unemployment fell by 60,000 to 1.69 million. A

Turkey can’t cope. Can we?

[audioplayer src=”http://rss.acast.com/viewfrom22/thenextrefugeecrisis/media.mp3″ title=”Laura Pitel and Migration Watch’s Alanna Thomas discuss the second migrant crisis”] Listen [/audioplayer]In Istanbul, signs of the Syrian influx are everywhere. Syrian mothers sit on pavements clutching babies wrapped in blankets; children from Homs, Syria’s most completely devastated city, push their way through packed tram carriages begging for coins. Arabic adverts offer rooms for rent. It’s almost inconceivable how many Syrians Turkey has taken in as refugees — around 2.5 million of them so far. That’s almost three times the number who have sought refuge in Europe. And while the Turks are hospitable, Turkey has more than any country should bear. Yet still more refugees arrive. This

Turkey’s climate of fear

   Istanbul Few AK party supporters hanker after the Isis way of life: for many of them, it would be a death sentence Turkey is less and less a democracy, more and more a paranoid one-party state. If you don’t believe that, look at what happens to those who draw attention to the government’s failures and crimes. The editors of Cumhuriyet, a centre-left broadsheet, have been delivering their editorials from jail since November. A statement issued this month by the Izmir Society of Journalists claimed that 31 journalists were in prison while 234 were in legal limbo awaiting trial. Over the course of last year, they added, 15 television channels

National pride is blinding Turkey to the threat from Isis

On Tuesday, Isis’s strategy in Turkey changed. Nabil Fadli, a 28-year-old Saudi national linked to Isis, blew himself up in the heart of Sultanahmet, a tourist district of Istanbul. 11 tourists were killed, including ten Germans. In some ways, it was familiar: this was Isis’s fourth successful attack on Turkish soil since June. Previous bombs, however, had targeted pro-Kurdish and leftist groups: one, last July, targeted Suruç in the Kurdish south-east; in October, another took over 100 lives in at a peace rally in Ankara. The perpetrators of both these attacks were traced back to an Isis cell in the Turkish city of Adıyaman, and the government was criticised for failing

It is time to join the fight against IS in Syria

The Islamic State is as monstrous an enemy as we have seen in recent history. It crucifies and decapitates its victims, holds teenage girls in slavery and burns captives alive. It is wrong to call it a medieval force, because such institutionalised barbarity was seldom seen in medieval times. As far as five centuries of records from the Ottoman Empire can establish, stoning was authorised only once. Isis now regularly stones suspected adulterers to death. It is not seeking inspiration from the Middle Ages. We are witnessing a modern form of evil — and it is spreading fast. Labour MPs, now accustomed to receiving threats from hard-left activists, were told

Portrait of the week | 30 July 2015

Home A man died when 1,500 migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel terminal in Calais in one night. The night before, 2,000 had tried. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, spoke of spending money on fences. The Foreign Office warned travellers to the Continent via Calais that they should be prepared to return by a different route, what with migrants and French strikers. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, visited Paris for talks with French ministers about Britain’s place in the European Union. Chris Froome won the Tour de France for the second time in three years, although some spectators threw urine at him and some even suggested that

Away from the herd

 Erbil, Iraq The Kurds here are fighting Isis — everyone knows that. Most of us are at least peripherally aware that the brave Peshmerga (Kurdish militia) have proved an effective force against the Islamists, and we cheer them on. What we don’t realise is that as they battle the world’s latest bogeyman, the Kurds are also simultaneously suffering from another sort of crisis. Traditionally the Iraqi Kurds are nomadic pastoralists. They’ve herded sheep since biblical times, leading their flocks from the mountains to the lowlands and back. The passion they feel for their land is rooted in this pastoral tradition. It’s a weird irony, then, that as their dream of

Shrapnel at the Arcola works for the slayers, not the slain

Quite a hit factory these days, the Hampstead Theatre. The latest candidate for West End glory is Hugh Whitemore’s bio-drama about Stevie Smith. Not an obvious choice. The script, from the 1970s, recreates the atmosphere of Stevie’s life with effortless accuracy. Her vocabulary, her taste in clothes, her habits of thought and expression appear by magic as if drawn from the evidence of intimate friends. Yet Whitemore never met his subject. Zoë Wanamaker plays her as an adorable suburban eccentric, whose razor-sharp intellect peeps out from behind a façade of emerald pinafores and sherry decanters. Stevie (Florence Margaret Smith) was born in Hull in 1902 and lived nearly all her

For modern-day Assyrians their present is under attack from Isis, as is their past

The historian Tom Holland tweeted this morning: ‘What ‪#ISIS are doing to the people & culture of ‪#Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know.’ What #ISIS are doing to the people & culture of #Assyria is worthy of the Nazis. None of us can say we didn’t know: http://t.co/Ndi02TeueK — Tom Holland (@holland_tom) February 27, 2015 He linked to a Washington Post article about how the Islamist group had kidnapped at least 200 Assyrian Christians from their homes in north-east Syria, and may well be preparing to murder them. In another tweet he showed a video by Assyriology professor Simo Parpola on the

Britain must assist Iraqi Kurds in their fight against Isis

The implosion of Iraq and the durability of Islamic State will be major headaches for new ministers in May. Their required reading should include recent and substantial reports from the foreign affairs and defence select committees, respectively on UK policy towards Kurdistan and the response to Isis. My reading of the stark picture painted by these two reports is that Isis benefitted from two main policy errors. Firstly, the West didn’t intervene sufficiently in Syria when it had the chance. The moderate opposition to Assad was marooned, and then supplanted by Isis, except in Syrian Kurdish areas. Secondly, America’s departure from Iraq in December 2010 was not delayed as many hoped. The

Kurds can pull off miracles, but they need help against Isis

The Kurds can pull off minor miracles when they need to. They require active support, however, now they are at the centre of the global struggle against the self-styled Islamic caliphate, Isis. Recent history shows the Kurdish potential. Eight years ago in Iraqi Kurdistan, there was much talk about oil and gas reserves. Some thought it was all hot air; their oil sector is now huge and has driven another once impossible dream – rapprochement with Turkey, which needs vast energy supplies to fuel its growing economy. Energy could even fuel Kurdish independence. However, a longer history hangs over the Kurds. Nearly a century ago, Kurdish hopes of a single

Never mind the Baghdad politics, Iraqi Kurds need help to fight Islamic State

The threat from Daish, the Arabic acronym for the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, has gone from a side issue to a central imperative, judging by discussions with Kurdish leaders on my four fact-finding trips to the Kurdistan region in the last year. Last November, I was told how Daish operatives were assiduously measuring building sites in Mosul in an extortion racket. In February, I learned of their external funding and their continuing growth. In June, they captured Mosul with a small force that immediately acquired thousands of adherents, and established a 650-mile border with the Iraqi Kurds. The major shock, though, was how quickly the Iraqi Army

Fear, loathing and an Ottoman shrine in the cold war between Isis and Turkey

Turkey and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis) are engaged in a cold war. Although they despise each other, they will avoid direct engagement, for fear of the massive damage that could result. A little known Turkish exclave that lies inside Syria, known as the Tomb of Suleyman Shah and currently under siege by Isis, is a case in point. The Tomb of Suleyman Shah – a 2.47-acre sovereign Turkish district that houses the shrine of an Ottoman patriarch – holds immense emotional value for the Turks. It is the burial place of the grandfather of Osman Bey, who founded the Ottoman Empire, and is guarded by 80