Are the Syrian Democratic Forces a terror organization as Turkey says?

Are the SDF freedom fighters who helped defeat ISIS or terrorists who kill civilians to help achieve their goal? It depends who you ask.

Rachel Avraham

OpEds Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter
INNRA

“We must ensure that the Syrian Democratic Forces that defeated ISIS are never classified as a terror organization merely because some of their members are part of the YPD,” Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, declared.

Recently, Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, declared that the international community has an international obligation to recognize the Syrian Democratic Forces as freedom fighters, who defeated ISIS: “We must ensure that the Syrian Democratic Forces that defeated ISIS are never classified as a terror organization merely because some of their members are part of the YPD.   We must recognize that those whom Turkey considers terrorists are not really terrorists.”  

“It is critical to recall that historically, there is a difference between terrorists and freedom fighters,” he added.  “It is clear to us that the Kurds' goal is to establish an independent state and to obtain international recognition.  Therefore, they should be considered to be freedom fighters and not terrorists.” 

In order to evaluate whether Safadi is correct in calling for the Syrian Democratic Forces to be defined by goals rather than actions,and therefore to be defined as freedom fighters rather than terrorists, it is critical to look at how terrorism is actually defined.

Counter-terror expert Bruce Hoffman defined terrorism as “a violent act that is conceived specifically to attract attention and then through the publicity that it generates to communicate a message.”  Sheikh Muhammed Tahir Ul-Qadri, a Pakistani-born Sufi Islamic scholar, described modern-day terrorists as the reincarnation of the Kharijites, whom Islamic scholars have described as murderous rebels and illegal fighters.   Imam Abd Al Barr (d. 1071) described such illegal fighters and murderous rebels as those who “block the roads, spread fear, sow corruption on earth by seizing wealth and shedding blood and violating those whose honor Allah has made inviolable (chaste women).”  Israel defines terrorism by actions, and defines those who target its civilians, no matter what their goal, as terrorists.  

Which definition does the Syrian Democratic Forces fit?  In order to understand this, we must understand what the different organizations, the PKK, the YPG, the YPD and the SDF. 

The PKK is defined as a terror organization by the United States and Turkey.  It is a group that is fighting for an independent Kurdistan and is engaged in an armed struggle against the Turkish government.  

The PKK has waged suicide bombing attacks.  According to INSAMER, a Turkish humanitarian and social research center, on June 30, 1996, Zeynap Kenaci, a Kurdish woman working for the PKK, became the first Kurdish female suicide bomber when she killed 8 Turkish soldiers at a flag waving ceremony in Tunceli.  Since then, the PKK has been known to utilize female suicide bombers.  However, they noted: “While some terrorist organizations believe everyone outside their ideology is a non-believer and should be killed, others, on the other hand, kill security personnel for state-building and reasons embedded in the revolution.”  Given that the PKK is a secular organization seeking to establish an independent Kurdistan, it might appear that the PKK falls into the second category. 

There have been Turkish civilian casualities during PKK attacks.  Nevertheless, most of the PKK targets generally appear to be military.  According to Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas, the PKK does not hijack airplanes and Turkish civilians are not their main target.  However, this does not mean that PKK attacks in Turkey don’t “spread fear and shed blood.”  To the contrary, they are “violent acts” that do “attract attention” and “communicate a message.” 

The PYD is the political wing of the YPG, a Syrian group which the Turks claim is the Syrian branch of the PKK.  The Kurds differ on this.   Despite their affinity for their Turkish Kurdish counter-parts, the YPG does not appear to be identical to the PKK.  In fact, it was only in the wake of Erdogan’s invasion of Northern Syria that YPG female suicide bombers targeted the Turkish military.   In other words, the YPG seeks to defend their lands in Syria, not take over Turkish Kurdistan, even though they did adopt Ocalan’s vision regarding democratic confederalism.  As Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas noted, “Most of the people who joined the YPG did so in order to defend their lands.  The YPG is not interested in Turkey.  They want to live in peace and self-govern in a broken and failed state, Syria.  They are more focused on the Kurds of Syria.  Each person is busy enough in order to survive in their own territory and they are focused on their own affairs.  They might have some sympathy for the PKK.  There are some who seek a united Kurdistan but that does not mean it is achievable in the near future and it is nothing more than merely symbolic.” 

While the YPG may have some loose symbolic links to the PKK, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) is not identical to the YPG.  According to Al Jazeera, the Syrian Democratic Forces is made up of an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias.  Al Jazeera claims that while the backbone of the SDF consists of YPG fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces also includes smaller groups of Arab, Turkmen and Armenian fighters.  The SDF was armed and trained by the US in order to fight against ISIS.  Until relatively recently, most of its operations were centered on fighting against radical Islam.  Therefore, Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas proclaimed that the SDF is not a terror organization.

Nevertheless, Turkish Jewish journalist Rafael Sadi proclaimed: “For Turkey, the SDF is the same organization as the PYD/YPG and the PKK.  The PKK and the PYD/YPG are part of the same body.  In Israel, we know very well that the PLO and Hamas have almost the same ideology.  Both of them are willing to kick us out from our land and to throw us into the sea.  The PKK and PYD/YPG/SDF ideology seeks to establish its own state in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran.  Turkey knows very well that if a Kurdish state will be established in Syria, the next step will be to ask territories from Turkey.  This is not just paranoia but is proven with statements from Kurdish leaders.  There are videos from some US Senators confirming that the YPG and the PKK are the same organization.”

However, even if Turkey believes the PKK/YPG/PYD/SDF are enemies, this does not justify what Erdogan has done in Syria.  Syrian Kurdish dissident Sherkoh Abbas accused Erdogan of spreading terror across the region: “All he has basically done is to turn the area into a haven that is much worse than Afghanistan.  Most of his people commit atrocities that are not better than ISIS and they are former ISIS members.  How do you explain going into a hospital and killing doctors and nurses?  How can you explain killing journalists?  Forcing people to leave their homes?  This is how he does ethnic cleansing.  He does waves of killings and takes over homes.  Turkey is only interested in crushing Kurdish aspirations.  If there was a Kurdish entity on Mars, he would oppose it.  There are other Kurdish groups that have nothing to do with the PKK and hate the PKK.  But when they took over Afrin, why did Turkey not hand Afrin over to those Kurds, who have no sympathy or goodwill towards the PKK?  Why instead bring in jihadists?” 

According to a recent report in Ahval, the YPG prevented all rival Kurdish groups from operating in Northern Syria.  As a result, the Kurdistan National Council and its Rojava Peshmerga, who are a rival group to the YPG backed by the Barzani’s in Iraq, were stranded in Iraqi Kurdistan.  They would have gladly filled any power vacuum if given the opportunity to do so.  The Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, another dissident group, would likely have done so as well, not to mention the Kurdish Democratic Progressive Party and the Kurdish Future Movement Party.   These are all Kurdish political groups that have nothing to do with the YPG, whom Turkey could have empowered as a replacement for the YPG.  Thus, the entire fiasco occurring under our eyes in Northern Syria could have been avoided while the YPG could still have been forced to the sidelines.     



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