Ibrahim Aydin serves as an advisor to the chairman at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (ORSAM) based in Ankara, Turkey’s capital.
Ismail Numan Telci is an associate professor of international relations at the Middle East Institute of Sakarya University in Turkey’s Black Sea region, as well as an expert on the Middle East, Arab Spring, Egyptian revolution, and Gulf politics, and also serves as deputy director at ORSAM.
HiddenLight Productions, a global production company founded by former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, has acquired the TV adaptation rights to the book The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice, written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a development which has ignited widespread controversy in Turkey.
The book, released by Penguin Press on Feb. 16, is reportedly set to be adapted into a mini-series featuring interviews with and field reports on “female Kurdish militias” actively involved in the war against Daesh in Syria. Hillary Clinton’s remarks on the story calling it “an extraordinary account of brave, defiant women fighting for justice and equality” also prompted a strong backlash.
In their comments about the book, numerous activists, writers, and media outlets have heaped lavish praise on the story’s “heroes,” referred to as “our Syrian Kurdish partners,” who have gained the respect of and critical military support from the US Army Special Forces by defeating the terrorist organization Daesh and launching a revolution based on women’s rights, as well as for a number of other alleged feats they are given credit for.
These comments regarding the book might have been influenced by the international public’s general approach to the issue, the topicality of the subject, as well as its professionally-prepared impressive, and high-quality content. In one of these comments, however, a statement made on the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ), the women’s wing of the terrorist PKK’s armed Syrian offshoot YPG, is particularly remarkable. It is claimed that the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) “repeatedly demonstrated its bravery throughout the fight against Daesh.”
We can infer from these media efforts that there is an ongoing campaign to build the impression that “one of the main actors of the fight against the terrorist organization Daesh is the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) in Syria.” In addition, the widespread perception that the YPJ has become one of the crucial actors in containing the terrorist Daesh is being pushed back into the agenda. However, given the obvious fact that the YPJ is merely a part of the terrorist PKK’s Syrian branch, one can easily read certain ulterior motives into these efforts.
This rhetoric of “crucial actor in the containment of Daesh” will, above all, contribute to the efforts aimed at legitimizing the PYD/YPG that have been maintained since its very beginnings based on the assertion that it is separate from the PKK. Secondly, the fact that this issue has been brought up at a time when the Biden administration has only recently taken office and when policies for the region are being revised shows that this step is the product of a time-conscious strategy. The rhetoric that “Trump abandoned the Kurdish fighters who had defeated Daesh” should also be remembered at this point.
It would not be realistic to argue that it is an accident that women have been featured so prominently in this process. The topic of women’s rights, in addition to being considered as rhetoric with the power to create international influence, has surely been one of the most notable and weighty issues for quite some time. The growing sensibility to the issue of violence against women in Turkey is also very relevant (particularly in the context of the heated debate on the so-called “Istanbul Contract”). Internationally, the “Me Too” movement, founded by American social activist Tarana Burke in 2006 and popularized in 2017 by another American activist Alyssa Milano, continues to have an impact, especially in Western countries, with its goal of raising awareness about women’s rights.
So, is this the first time that PKK/YPJ members have been featured in Western media? Of course not. Many well-known US and European newspapers and magazines, as well as many movies and TV shows, have covered the YPJ’s female militias. To top it all, they have recently been brought back to the agenda by US officials. A tweet, for example, by Colonel Wayne Marotto, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), established by the Global Coalition against Daesh in Iraq and Syria on behalf of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), read, “Today is Kobani Liberation Day. On January 26, 2015, Kurdish fighters, supported by @CJTFOIR airstrikes, liberated Kobani & showed that Daesh wasn’t invincible & denied them a strategic objective. Congratulations to the Kurds for being an example of a reliable, & capable partner.” His post featured a picture of female YPJ terrorists.
This brings us to the conclusion that the new poster child on the “window display” of the terrorist PKK is its women’s wing in Syria: the YPJ. This is a well-adapted strategy given the Western public’s overall approach to women. The fact that the YPJ, and hence the PYD/YPG, is highlighted throughout the book “The Daughters of Kobani,” with no mention whatsoever of the PKK, can also be considered as part and parcel of these legitimation efforts.
In fact, during the Syrian civil war, the YPG was able to make a splash with the political and military organization it built through the PKK before the civil war and had the opportunity to promote itself in the international arena with the involvement of global actors in the Syrian civil war. As a result of the support it received, the PYD/YPG was able to open representative offices in many European countries, in addition to the US, capitalizing on the epithet awarded to it: “one of the key actors in the battle against Daesh.”
As is well-known, the US recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization and has offered millions of dollars in rewards to apprehend the leaders of the organization. It has also included some of the organization’s leaders on its list of “Counter Narcotics Trafficking Sanctions” However, the US has so far persistently refused to recognize the PYD, the Syrian wing of the PKK, or the YPG, its armed branch, as a terrorist organization.
One might argue that, as a justification for this situation, the US needs the YPG and its derivatives in the region for its short-term operational goals in relation to the Syrian civil war and developments in Iraq. However, the impossibility of fulfilling this need through the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organization by itself and by a number of Western countries, as well as by many international organizations such as the EU, the UN, and NATO, is also evident. In addition, looking at the current trajectory, it can be seen that replacing the PKK with a seemingly legitimate entity that could utilize all of PKK’s cadres, logistics and affiliates was preferable, considering the unavoidable conjunctural ties between the PKK and Iran and Russia.
However, it should be known that the insistence of the US on treating these two entities (PKK-PYD/YPG) as entirely separate organizations immensely contributes to the legitimization of the PYD/YPG. It should also be known that the cost of the PR campaign being conducted to boost the global image of the YPG – despite the dozens of official reports establishing that it is merely the Syrian branch of the terrorist PKK and documenting its war crimes committed in the Syrian civil war – will be covered by the “budget” of the US global image.
Yet another important issue that should be noted is Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF). Individuals defined as FTF in Resolution 2178 of the UN Security Council and viewed as serious threats with the potential to spread the war out of the region are not just within the ranks of Daesh. It must also be borne in mind that the YPG, and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by the YPG, also contain a considerable number of FTF elements and a significant portion of them are currently based in Europe.
The terrorist PKK and its offshoots, which pose a clear threat not only to Turkey but also to the entire region as well as to humanity as a whole, being supported by the US directly or indirectly and the national security concerns of its NATO ally Turkey being ignored is simply unacceptable. The kind of relationship the US establishes with the terrorist organizations that may form against Turkey, particularly in Syria and Iraq, is of vital importance to Ankara.
The killing, on Feb. 14, of 12 innocent and unarmed Turkish nationals, who had been abducted from their lands and forcefully held in terrorist camps in Northern Iraq for six years, has demonstrated once again the need to permanently end the activities of the terrorist PKK and all its affiliates in the region as part of counter-terrorism efforts. As Turkey mobilizes all of its resources to this end, it has every right to expect support from its allies, first and foremost, the US.
*Translated from Turkish by Can Atalay
*Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.
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