The Turkish Army’s relationship with the Kurdish people, and its role in Iraq and Syria

The Turkish Government has been shelling Kurdish fighters belonging to the People’s Protection Units, also known at the YPG, who are the armed force of the Syrian Democratic Union Party.  The recent attacks have prompted the US, the UN and EU to call for some restraint.  The degree to which Turkey’s fight against Isis is genuine has also been questioned by Kurdish officials, and doubts have arisen about Ankara’s agenda in both Syria and Iraq.  There have even been allegations about Turkey’s inability or unwillingness to control its borders. They were up until recently, allowing extremists to enter Syria from Turkey, thus helping to establish Isis in the north of the country.

There is of course a deep rooted conflict that has seen hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Kurdish people displaced from their homes or killed.  Centuries of oppression from both the Ottoman Empire and modern day Arab States have ignited the flame for an independent Kurdish state.

The YPG’s role in the fight against Isis is a crucial one.  In fact, the People’s Protection Units are one of the main ground forces battling against the self-styled caliphate.  With Turkey continuing to bomb YPG positions, could they be using the US led coalition against Isis as a cover to attack the YPG in Northern Syria?  The Turkish government certainly have no problem fighting their own people, Turkish Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Worker’s Party (PKK) being a case in point.

However, Turkey does have good relations with Iraqi Kurds belonging to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).  The Turkish army are training and arming a predominately Sunni militia called Hasd al-Watani.  The militia group hope that by working with the Iraqi Peshmerga, the armed force of the KRG, they will be able to help retake Mosul, the de-facto capital of Isis in Iraq.

We cannot ignore the complexities of t00he situation in the Middle East.  The number of militia groups belonging to different ethnicities seems to be growing by the month.  Different factions are fighting for territories. A cohesive effort is needed in order to suppress the threat posed by Isis.  Turkey’s role, its cooperation with the rest of the world and with the Kurdish populations needs be far more transparent.

By Nihal Patel

Engage, not Prevent – a review of a Select Committee’s report on the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy

“Identifying the tipping point for many men and women thinking of joining Daesh remains the holy grail in our fight against radicalisation”.

It emerged a couple weeks ago that one of the Bethnal Green school girls who left Britain for Syria in 2015 had been killed in a Russian airstrike.  Kadiza Sultana, along with Amira Abase and Shamima Begum were a part of a surge of young people heading out from Britain to join organisations fighting in Syria and Iraq.  The numbers are deeply concerning; a recent report estimates that around 850 have left, with 125 losing their lives (the NCF believes the real figure to be considerably higher).  Kadiza Sultana and her friends from East London have become a statistic in a recent Select Committee report that addresses concerns over the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy.

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Kadiza (second row, second from left) is just one of 850 young Britons to have fled to the Middle East.  A Select Committee is calling for the Prevent Strategy to be reviewed and overhauled.

The report, published on 25th August 2016, has highlighted a number of problems with the Prevent Strategy, and offers options to make the strategy more accessible to those that need it most.  The report centred on the issue of combatting radicalisation and extremism amongst vulnerable people, and draws on how The Home Office, schools, health organisations, social media companies, security services and the press all have a responsibility to enhance their resources with the aim of engaging communities, instead of alienating them.  The committee felt that the current system used for Prevent was causing more harm than good.  Security Minister Ben Wallace argued that the strategy had been reviewed numerous times to “ensure it works,” and that “for Prevent to work, we all need to get behind it, not stand on the side lines undermining it”.  However, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow has called for a proper assessment of Prevent, to “really understand what works and what doesn’t”.

The Select Committee have called for a review, and have encouraged a community led approach.  As of this moment, the strategy is viewed by many in local communities as a “big brother” security operation.  Harun Khan, deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed his concern, claiming that many young people feel they are being viewed as “suspects” rather than feeling welcomed and encouraged to speak out.  The real focus of the strategy should be around building a relationship between various influential community groups and the state.

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Prevent was criticised after hidden CCTV cameras were placed around predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham

 The most promising set of options to improve Prevent was the strategy suggested for dealing with families and the rehabilitation of those affected by extremism.  In order to bridge the silence that characterises the relationship between the state and the communities, the committee highlighted the need for an easily accessible advice and counselling service, particularly for parents, but also for other loved ones and friends who may have concerns about people being radicalised.  If this were to be put in place, perhaps with community organisation members acting as part of the team of advisers, we could identify the tipping point where individuals start to embrace extremism.  The issue is a complex one, but engaging with families, would build up an extensive array of counter-narrative case studies.

Finally, with regards to the committee’s stance on rehabilitation, empowering young people to have a voice and use it with confidence seems to be the most commanding way to combat extremism at a grass roots level in the UK.  The committee advocated a programme that helps young people from vulnerable communities in acquiring critical reasoning skills and a sense of belonging and purpose, so that they could be aware of any manipulation or grooming.  Sara Khan, co-founder of the anti-terror organisation ‘Inspire’, has looked at girls like Kadiza as victims, who “lack the critical thinking skills” which “is what makes them vulnerable to Islamist extremist propaganda”.

It is important to note the success of the UK’s security services in preventing tragedies on the scale which have been seen elsewhere, and that should be highly commended.  However, the approach used by previous governments to counter extremism has so far not achieved the success that we have desired.  The Select Committee recognised that local communities, community leaders and young people are willing to cooperate and tackle the problem if the correct strategies were put in place to enable positive changes.  That being said, the report urged the Government to not squander this opportunity to harness the powerful force of community engagement.

By Nihal Patel

The Immorality of Suicide Bombings in the 21st Century

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The Kurdish Community has been the victim one of of the latest atrocites

By Nihal Patel

2016 has been a particularly worrying and frightening year for terrorist atrocities.  According to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, from January 2016 until July, there have been an astonishing 892 terrorism related deaths in Europe alone.  That makes the first seven months of this year the deadliest for over two decades.  This figure does include terrorist attacks in Turkey, where 726 of the 892 deaths have occurred.  On 20th August 2016, a particularly harrowing incident took place in the Turkish city of Gaziantep at a Kurdish wedding celebration.  President Erdogan has claimed that the attack was likely to have been committed by Islamic State militants.  Leaders across the world have condemned the attack, including the Kurdistan Region’s President Masoud Barzani, as well as British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who tweeted his sympathies for Turkey and its Kurdish population. The incident has caused immense distress, and stood out amidst numerous acts of violence because it is claimed that the attack was carried out by a child alleged to be 12-14 years old.

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Victims of the Gaziantep attack

It is important to understand what the working definition of terrorism is.  In my opinion, terrorism, or an act of terrorism is defined as an act of violence performed by a non-state member, to achieve a political, social, religious or economic goal through fear and coercion.  Historically, suicide bombings have been used as a primary weapon by terrorist organizations in order to achieve an agenda. Suicide bombings over the past decade have been carried out by both men and women and fit into the working definition of a terrorist attack, mainly because the perpetrators are regarded as “non-state members”.

What has become apparent during the rise of Islamic State is their complete disregard for democracy, different ethnic groups across Europe and the Middle East and Islam’s historical tolerance for other religions, particularly Christianity and Judaism.    Many young men and women across Europe and the Middle East are coerced and brainwashed into giving their lives away, which needs to be combated through education.  However, using a child is even more sinister and cowardly than usual, and reinforces the notion that terrorist organizations are willing to do whatever it takes to complete their goals.