Germany’s conflicted attitude to Kurdish fighters was exposed once again this week when Munich police raided the home of a left-wing activist who posted the flag of the YPG on Facebook. The YPG, or People’s Protection Units, a 50,000-strong militia, is heavily involved in the war in Syria. It has helped German intelligence and is supplied with weapons by the US.
A special police commando raided a shared apartment in the Schwabing district of the Bavarian capital at 6 a.m. on Thursday morning, having tracked down one of its inhabitants who had, according to their search warrant, posted an image of the triangular yellow YPG flag in March.
The taz newspaper identified the target of the raid as Benjamin Russ, a left-wing activist, who told the newspaper that he had posted the flag on his Facebook page in March in protest at a new ban imposed by the German Interior Ministry on all symbols related to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK is a leftist separatist party affiliated with the YPG that is in a long-term armed conflict with the Turkish government and is considered a terrorist organization by the European Union and the US.
“The police action was aimed at intimidating us,” one of the people living in the apartment told Bavarian public broadcaster BR. “The officers did not listen to our requests not to enter the other rooms. They basically besieged the whole building.” However, a spokesman for the Munich police insisted to DW that only Russ’ room had been searched, and that the other rooms were only entered for security reasons.
Russ said he had been aware that he was under investigation by the police since May, but that he was in Greece at the time of the raid, during which electronic devices were confiscated.
The friendly ‘terrorists’
Many left-wing activists have shown sympathy towards the YPG, but so has the US military, which provided air support to the group during the siege of Kobane, northern Syria, in 2015, when it fought the terrorist militia “Islamic State.”
Though both the Turkish and Syrian governments criticized the US at the time, the intervention helped the YPG score an important victory over the “Islamic State” alongside the Free Syrian Army and the Peshmerga, another armed Kurdish group. In May 2016, US troops training Kurdish fighters in Syria were even photographed wearing YPG patches – much to the annoyance of the Turkish government.
That policy hasn’t changed under Donald Trump’s administration, which is still supplying arms to the group. The Pentagon began sending thousands of assault rifles as well as armored vehicles to the YPG in May, describing it as “the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqqa (an IS stronghold in Syria) in the near future.”
The political paradox
The YPG has also helped the German intelligence agency, the BND – something that emerged as the strange case of Ali R. was unraveled in a Munich court. The 32-year-old former Berlin taxi driver was sentenced to three years in prison in September 2016 for membership of IS. He had apparently traveled to Syria in 2014 and joined the group in a desperate attempt to rescue his estranged wife, who had travelled to Raqqa with their three children.
According to BR, Ali R. had contacted the German authorities, and the BND had helped him and his three children to escape – with the help of a YPG driver, who had passed him on to the Peshmerga in Iraq. The German government, for its part, has supplied the Peshmerga with weapons.
These contradictions have led many German politicians to call on the government to lift its ban on displaying YPG insignia. In a statement issued on Friday, the Left party’s interior policy spokeswoman Ulla Jelpke said the government needed to “ask itself seriously what side it’s on in the fight against IS.”