Yes, Syrian Kurds Have Committed War Crimes – Roy Gutman Responds to Aymenn Tamimi

Roy Gutman Responds to Aymenn al-Tamimi on “Have the Syrian Kurds Committed War Crimes?”
By Roy Gutman – @Roy_Gutman
For Syria Comment – February 12, 2017

Any journalist covering a controversial topic like alleged war crimes can expect a hostile response from the subject of the story, but it’s extremely rare in my experience for a specialist in the field to respond to a major journalistic investigation by challenging the reporter’s professional integrity.

The report I wrote for the Nation on Feb. 7, the first of two parts, details the pattern of mass expulsions and political suppression by the ruling People’s Protection Units or YPG that has led to the flight of an enormous number of Arabs and Kurds from the region.

Mr Tamimi’s statements that the “author’s bias for the Syrian opposition and Turkey has been evident for years” and that he “uncritically relays dubious testimony that a far-minded journalist would have subjected to appropriate scrutiny” reads like an attempt to discredit the entire content of my story.

It calls for evidence.

The only previous article Mr Tamimi cites is my report from October 2012 about a defector from the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK and his debriefing by Turkish security services. The story reveals where the volunteer had served and why he defected, and provides a first person account of the rigors of life in the PKK.

I was the only foreign journalist to report from Semdinli the previous summer. I first heard about the defection from the governor, so I had no reason to doubt that it had occurred. Obtaining the debriefing was an example of journalistic enterprise. I am sure the PKK was embarrassed. But that doesn’t discredit the 2012 story. It certainly doesn’t discredit this latest one.
Likewise, in May 2013, at the start of a cease-fire with the PKK, I trekked into the no-man’s-land in southern Turkey and interviewed PKK fighters who were withdrawing from Turkey, but very slowly. I was once again the only reporter who ventured into the wilderness area to find the departing forces.

Of the 50 plus articles I wrote for McClatchy about the PKK, why does Mr Tamimi pick one from 2012, that anyone else would say is good journalism?

Mr Tamimi also lumps my reportage together with that of Sy Hersh, whose April 2014 report on the chemical weapons attack outside Damascus was based on unnamed former intelligence officials. Yet my sources are named, their statements can be verified and they can be checked out. This disparaging reference by Mr Tamimi also reads like is an attempt to discredit the entire story in The Nation.

My biggest single objection to his posting is that while Mr Tamimi says my article “does raise some valid points for discussion,” he doesn’t discuss them.

So here they are:

  • Tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands, of Arabs were forced from their homes by the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units or YPG.
  • Well over 500,000 Kurds fled rather than submit to YPG rule and abuses.
  • The expulsion of the Arabs was carried out in close cooperation with the Assad regime, which sought to rid the region of political dissenters and joined the YPG in destroying villages.
  • Brutal expulsions continued through mid 2016.
  • The YPG and its political organization, the Democratic Union Party, don’t acknowledge any of this, haven’t investigated haven’t punished anyone.
  • Iran played a major role in the setting up of YPG role in northern Syria.
  • The U.S. has been all but silent about the human rights abuses and possible war crimes.

Did these alleged abuses and war crimes occur? Should the YPG acknowledge, investigate and punish them? Mr Tamimi doesn’t say.

Instead of dealing with the content of the story as presented, he focuses on a few details. He questions the assertion that in Tel Hamis and Husseiniya in Hasakah province, the YPG burned houses and expelled residents after taking the towns without a fight. Amnesty International verified in 2015 that the destruction of Husseiniya occurred after it was captured without a fight. But my assertion that Tel Hamis was yielded without a fight in 2015 “can only be described as a travesty of the truth,” he says.

Once again, Mr. Tamami can’t produce the evidence. He writes there were “abundant martyrdom’ commemorations” in the “extended campaign” to take the town. But surely he must be aware that one of the five death notices he links to, one was for a death in 2013, and the other four, including one for an underage fighter, were spread through March 2015. But ISIS abandoned Tel Hamis on Feb. 27. So the death notices don’t prove there was a major battle, or a battle at all. They certainly don’t support his claim there had been an “extended campaign.”

According to Abu Ahmed, a commander of the Free Syrian Army’s Falcan Brigade, which ISIS had earlier ousted from Tel Hamis, the YPG waited three days before entering Tel Hamis and did so “without shooting a bullet.” Abu Ahmed, who no longer lives in the area, said he assembled his narrative from former brigade members who stayed in the area. He asked that his real name not be used.

But I suppose Mr. Tamimi will discount that testimony as it came from the rebel side and that it hasn’t been “subjected to appropriate scrutiny.” But has he subjected his sources, whoever they may be, to “appropriate scrutiny?”

Roy Gutman
Middle East correspondent

+90 537 205 3434 (Turkcell)
+1 202 258 2875 (TMobile)
roygutman (Skype)

Comments (6)

Eugene said:

Another “He said/She said”, in this ongoing tragedy/war. Will the truth really come to the surface? With the insertion of “fake news”, revised speak, denial, does any of this matter, aside from the “ego’s” of the authors? It wont bring back to life those killed, it wont rebuild the infrastructure that has been destroyed, nor will it bring peace to Syria or its peoples. Nobody is right, everybody is wrong. The real people/countries responsible, wont face justice. Finger pointing? Depends on who is pointing the finger and what the end result may bring.

February 13th, 2017, 1:12 am


ALAN said:

Stop demonize others! There are, among you, a huge number of demons, who the space of hell is not enough to accommodate. There is a bad smell emanating from the American circuit, which has a monopoly on the fateful decisions for the peoples of the planet.

February 13th, 2017, 6:24 am


Ghufran said:

Not just the Kurds, all sides in this dirty war have committed war crimes. I expressed my doubts in 2013 that those war crimes will be referred to an international court of justice and nothing has changed in that regard. Some regime supporters want people to believe that the reports about torture and executions in regime prisons are fabricated, however, even after knowing that lying has become a way of life for many on the opposition side, there is no doubt that regime agents tortured and killed scores of Syrians.

February 13th, 2017, 8:30 am


katedervarg said:

1. Mr Gutman accuses Mr Tamimi for not being willing to discuss the issues in question. But he himself doesn’t. This is just a repeat from the last article which Mr Tamini quite correctly questioned.

2. Mr Gutman’s evidence is still “I’ve heard from” and these “from” constitutes of KDP, Turks and FSA, enemies of Syrian Kurds. Basic journalistic criticism would be called for.

3. Mr Gutman takes these testimonies for granted but shruds his shoulders at testimonies from YPG command aswell as those fighting in their ranks, even Western volunteers. It is not true they don’t answer to the allegations. They have. And they give very resonable explanations.

4. Mr Gutman says all those fleeing Kobane in 2014 were fleeing “YPG rule and abuses”. Really? The fact that an entire army of genocidal ISIS terrorists was coming their way had nothing to do with it? And how many of those fleeing in 2014 have come back since?

Still an example of bad journalism. If Mr Gutman finds it “extremely rare in my experience for a specialist in the field to respond to a major journalistic investigation by challenging the reporter’s professional integrity” perhaps that should tell him something. At least that the experts don’t agree with it being a “major journalistic investigation”.

February 13th, 2017, 9:31 am


ALAN said:

Why Mr Trump said: US is not innocent?
I have to reiterate this comment:
“The statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.” – Mark Twain, “The Mysterious Stranger” (1910)
Need to gathering up yourselves.

February 13th, 2017, 12:23 pm


ALAN said:

Organized Campaigns Hit At Trump’s Foreign Policy Plans
“The borg or deep state is way more concerned with keeping up its plans of uncontested global dominance than with the welfare of the citizens within the empire.”……

February 13th, 2017, 2:39 pm


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