Greater Middle East
Turkey and the Kurdish rebel movement on Feb. 28 announced a landmark political deal that calls for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to lay down arms. The news came in a joint press conference with senior cabinet ministers and Kurdish leaders of the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), where they conveyed a call by imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan for a congress this spring to discuss the group's disarmament. "This is a historic declaration of will to replace armed struggle with democratic politics," said the HDP's Sırrı Sureyya Onder. The Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), the PKK-aligned civil organization in Turkey's east, also issued a statement in support of the call for a peace process in the region. Some 40,000 people have lost their lives since 1984 when the PKK launched its armed struggle.
A Swedish court sentenced Syrian refugee Mouhannad Droub to five years in prison Feb. 26 after convicting him of abusing a captured member of President Bashar Assad's forces. Droub was part of a group under the Free Syrian Army, where he and other members beat a prisoner and posted a video of the abuse on Facebook. Droub received asylum in Sweden in 2013. He was indicted in the Södertörn District Court earlier this month. It is the first time that charges in connection with the Syrian conflict have been brought to a Swedish court.
A Bahraini court found 11 Shi'ities guilty on Feb. 26 of an attack carried out last year and sentenced three to death. The other eight defendants were sentenced to life in prison and will be stripped of their citizenship. The case centered on the country's deadliest attack since Bahraini security forces repressed Shi'ite protests in 2011. In March three police officers were killed by bombings in a Shi'ite village while breaking up groups of "rioters and vandals" on Manama's outskirts. One of the fallen officers had been a policeman from the United Arab Emirates deployed to Bahrain to assist in security measures. The defendants plan to appeal.
An Egyptian court on Feb. 23 sentenced activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah to five years in prison in a retrial on charges stemming from the 2011 uprising. Abdel-Fattah, a secular activist, was initially charged in November 2013 and later sentenced to 15 years under the country's law criminalizing unauthorized protest. While Abdel-Fattah's sentence was reduced on retrial, many supports have criticized the court's decision, claiming he should have been set free. Judge Hassan Farid also ordered that Abdel-Fattah and his co-defendants be subjected to police surveillance for a period of time after released from their prison sentences.
Hundreds of Turkish troops in armored vehicles crossed into northern Syria Feb. 22—apparently to evacuate forces guarding an historic tomb, demolishing it, and moving the remains to a different site. The remains of Suleyman Shah were moved to a location in Syria closer to the border, and a Turkish flag raised at the new burial site near Esmesi (Aleppo governorate). Turkey considers the site sovereign territory, so it is unclear if it has now abandoned claims to the previous site and transfered them to the new one. The Damascus regime (which has long since lost control over the north) condemned the incursion as "flagrant aggression," saying Turkey had informed its Istanbul consulate of the operation but not waited for Syria's consent. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his armed forces had carried out a "successful operation which is beyond all kinds of appreciation." Ominously, the column of Turkish armor swept through the border city of Kobani on its way to the site—an unsubtle message to the autonomist Kurdish fighters there. (BBC News)
Daniel Neep of Georgetown University in Discover Society last month provided a refreshingly skeptical overview of the various plans for redrawing the boundaries of the Middle East, in a piece entitled "The Middle East, Hallucination, and the Cartographic Imagination." We call it the balkanization agenda of the most hubristic neo-conservatives, although Neep doesn't use those terms ("DC policymakers," he says). He discusses how these ideas have been broached by imperial officialdom, e.g. in Lt. Col. Ralph Peters' writings in the Armed Forces Journal, and Wilson Center wonk Robin Wright in the New York Times. Neep's piece is most interesting for its comparative maps of all the schemes that have been floated. They all pretty much amount to the same thing: Iraq and Syria divided into Sunni and Shi'ite zones, an independent Kurdistan, Hijaz breaking off from Saudi Arabia, and so on. The irony is that all these theorists blabber on about how the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement created "articial states," while the drawing of new maps by Beltway wonks merely replicates the hubris of Sykes-Picot!
Bahrain's Ministry of Interior initiated a criminal investigation on Feb. 17 into alleged illegal content posted by the country's main opposition group, al-Wefaq National Islamic Society. Al-Wefaq regularly publishes content to its website and Twitter account, including pictures of protests against the Sunni majority party. Feb. 14 marked the four-year anniversary of a Shiite uprising in Bahrain and hundreds took the streets to protest a lack of political reform and the imprisonment of Al-Wafeq leader Sheikh Ali Salman. The alleged criminal content involves pictures of wounded protesters from the weekend protests, and claims that the authorities fired buckshot and tear gas to disperse protesters. Al-Wefaq is accused of publicly inciting hatred against the government, encouraging illegal rallies and distributing false news.
A coalition of 71 human rights groups released a statement (PDF) on Feb. 16 urging the Syrian government to release three prominent human rights defenders on the third anniversary of their imprisonment. The statement identifies the three men, Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani and Hussein Gharir, as Syrian journalists who were arrested in a raid of the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), and who have been detained and tortured on charges of "publicizing terrorist acts" under Syria's Anti-Terrorism Law of 2012. Despite being formally charged one year ago, their trial has been repeatedly postponed, and the government's applicable 2014 amnesty grant has not been honored. The organizations claim that the men are being persecuted for their legitimate human rights work by being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty, and call for the immediate release of these three men and anyone who is being arbitrarily detained by the Syrian government.