Desmond Fernandes and Margaret Owen discuss Carlotta Gall’s controversial New York Times article on Afrin.
In this podcast, Desmond Fernandes and Margaret Owen critically analyse the recent and controversial New York Times front page article by Carlotta Gall that focused on the human rights situation in Afrin, a city in northwest Syria.
Desmond Fernandes is a former Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at De Montfort University in the UK, who specialises in genocide studies and human rights concerns. Margaret Owen OBE is the Director of Widows for Peace through Democracy and is also a Patron of Peace in Kurdistan, a UK barrister and an international women’s human rights activist.
Afrin is a city in north western Syria. Located in the Afrin District and part of the Aleppo Governorate, as a result of the Turkish armed forces military Operation Olive Branch, the Syrian Democratic Forces withdrew from Afrin on 17 March 2018, almost three years ago to the day. Turkish Armed Forces and other military forces aligned to them, namely the Syrian National Army, captured Afrin the next day.
Significant human rights abuses by the Turkish armed forces and its backed militias were reported to have taken place during the capture of the city and there have been reports of substantive human rights abuses since in Afrin, by a number of human rights organisations, investigative reporters and the United Nations.
Despite these types of readily available reports and findings, the New York Times on 16 February in a front page story by Carlotta Gall, sought to ignore such documented concerns. It, on the contrary, stated that Turkey’s President Erdogan “has long called for the establishment of a no-fly zone, or an internationally protected safe zone, in northern Syria. As it stands, his forces have carved it out for themselves”.
Far from being a ‘safe zone’ for Kurds and many targeted ‘Others’, this podcast examines the significant extent to which the New York Times article has ignored realities on the ground. As Margaret Owen states: “There is no rule of law … Afrin has been ethnically cleansed”. Yazidis and women are not safe or protected. “It is the most violent place” and is now one of the most dangerous places in the world, particularly for women, she noted.
Why the ‘international community’, the European Union and the UK have remained so silent in all of this, not intervening to address Turkey’s war crimes in Afrin and its human rights abuses in Syria and in Turkey itself (where torture in prisons, for example, has reached frightening levels and Abdullah Ocalan, the leader of the PKK, continues to be imprisoned in unacceptable isolation conditions), is a subject that Margaret Owen also addresses in detail.
Brexit, Margaret Owen contends, is one of the significant factors that determines and influences the UK’s questionable foreign policy agendas with regard to Turkey. The UK continues to scandalously sell arms and provide military training to Turkey, despite the war crimes it is committing. It makes the UK government and other countries that sell arms to Turkey complicit in – and an accessory to – these war crimes, she concludes.
The ‘threat’ that the ‘international community’ sees in the successful Rojava (Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria – AANES) ‘experiment’ and ‘revolution’ – which has advanced the equality of women in striking and admirable ways whilst challenging the basis of capitalist modernity – is also another factor that needs to be critically considered, she notes.