In this week’s New Statesman: Spring Double Issue

100 pages of the finest writing, in time for Easter!

Spring has sprung (well, one can dream) and the NS brings you a celebratory Easter Double Issue packed with top quality writing, political commentary, cultural criticism, photography and fiction. FEATURING:

Felix Martin on the calamity facing Europe after the Cyprus crisis

Denis Healey: Rafael Behr interviews the former Chancellor, veteran Labour frontliner and poetry enthusiast

David Selbourne on the “void” in the new Tory party

A diary piece from Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow

GQ editor Dylan Jones on the perfect re-emergence of David Bowie

Why Allende Had to Die: the extraordinary 1974 essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“The Old Country” – a photo essay on Romanian migration

Crime correspondent Duncan Campbell on our enduring fascination with the Great Train Robbery

Jenny Diski on the paradox of fairness

A new short story from Deborah Levy

Will Self on Byron burgers

And much, much more....

 

Denis Healey: “Thatcher was good-looking and brilliant”

In the Politics Interview, Rafael Behr sits down with Denis Healey, the former defence secretary and chancellor of the exchequer who was on the front line of Labour politics for more than 40 years. Now, at 95, he has forgotten the squabbles and wants to take the long view. He also reveals an unexpected passion for poetry.

Read this interview in full on our website now.

 

David Selbourne: The new blue void

“The Tory void truly is a hollow place,” writes David Selbourne in an exclusive essay for the New Statesman. Selbourne argues that “Toryism no longer has a distinct core of belief”: “It is a commonplace criticism of today’s Conservative Party – especially among Conservatives – that it is poorly led by David Cameron, without coherent policy and therefore without sense of direction.” So, why can’t the new Conservative Party define itself? A failed “modernization” project lies at the heart of the void, argues Selbourne:

This was “we-believe-in-society” in intellectual fancy dress . . . “Brand” has taken precedence over brain, a new logo has counted for more than a new logic, and a photo opportunity more than a philosophy. Cameron’s “new product”, as David Davis called it in March 2007, has failed and the Conservative Party has failed with it . . .

The grim truth is that the Conser­vative Party is not able to make up its mind on most of the central issues of the day. This is ascribable not only to its present intellectually feeble leadership; it is because the Conservative Party is divided about what exactly it is and how to present this chimera to the public – as the Upbeat, Can-Do, Going-Somewhere Party of the Bright (if imaginary) Future, or as the party of those who are honest enough to say what a rough condition the country is in.

 

Jon Snow: The Diary

The Channel 4 news lead presenter writes a diary piece for us these week, covering everything from tea with Queen Judi, to bicycling in Amsterdam and hunting for WMDs with Hans Blix.

Midday on Tuesday. To the New Horizon Youth Centre near King’s Cross for our monthly meeting of the management council, which I chair. It’s a day centre for vulne­rable and homeless young people. We talk of finance and gangs – the former remains tough but survivable. As to the latter, “Not many gangs round here,” I venture. I come and go from the centre by bike, oblivious to the tensions in the streets around me.

The youth centre workers correct me. “We have one gang to the north, one to the south, and then there’s the Kilburn Crew out to the west.” Gangs are about identity, family even, for often deeply insecure, isolated youngsters who yearn for community and get it at the blade of a knife or worse.

That afternoon, I cycle over to the Noël Coward Theatre to interview Judi Dench, who is starring in her first post-Skyfall West End play – Peter and Alice. We squash our camera kit into the little rococo withdraw-ing room at the back of the theatre, all gold, blue and mirrored. Tricky to film without spotting one of the cameras in one of the mirrors. Dame Judi is an extraordinarily jolly yet formidable presence. At once apparently stern and then breaking out into a completely infectious laugh.

 

Gabriel García Márquez: Why Allende had to die

Forty years have passed since the Chilean president Salvador Allende died in La Moneda Palace in Santiago, attempting to defend himself with an AK-47 he had been given by Fidel Castro. Here, in a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.

It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.

 

Duncan Campbell: Fun-loving criminals

It wasn’t a particularly successful crime, nor the most significant in British history, so why, 50 years on, are we still so fascinated by the Great Train Robbery? Duncan Campbell, the Guardian’s former crime correspondent, investigates, beginning:

Over the police radio came the astonished comment: “You won’t believe this – but they’ve just stolen a train.” The first official notification of the theft of £2.6m from the Glasgow-to-Euston mail train came at 4.30 in the morning on 8 August 1963. Now, nearly 50 years on, we are about to experience a blizzard of anniversary television programmes, reissued books and chin-stroking commentary pieces about what was initially called “the Cheddington train robbery” but soon acquired a more grandiose title.

But why, half a century later, are we still familiar with the names of those involved in the Great Train Robbery? How has professional crime changed since then? And what, if anything, does it say about the nation’s fascination with villainy?

 

Jenny Diski: The paradox of fairness

In an essay and personal story, writer Jenny Diski wonders if the world would be a better place if the vicious suffered for their viciousness. And what exactly are “just deserts”? She begins:

For as far back as I can remember language, and uttered the very last time I saw her, one of my mother’s most repeated sentences was: “Every dog has its day.” She said it aloud to herself and to the knowing, listening universe, though, when I was in the room, her eyes might be pointing in my direction. It was an incantation, voiced in a low growl. There was something of a spell about it, but it was mainly an assertion of a fundamental and reassuring truth, a statement to vibrate and stand in the air against whatever injustice she had just suffered or remembered suffering. It was, I understood, a reiterated form of self-comfort to announce that justice, while taking its time, was inevitably to come; perhaps, too, a bit of a nudge for the lackadaisical force responsible for giving every dog its day.

 

In the Critics:

  • Dylan Jones, the editor of GQ, visits “David Bowie is” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
  • Ed Smith reflects on the music Richard Wagner on the bicentenary of his birth.
  • Man Booker shortlisted writer Deborah Levy contributes a surreal new short story
  • Will Self visits Byron burger joints
  • And more...

Read our full “In the Critics” blog here.

Purchase a copy of this week's New Statesman in newsstands today, or online at: subscribe.newstatesman.com

Charlotte Simmonds is a writer and blogger living in London. She was formerly an editorial assistant at the New Statesman. You can follow her on Twitter @thesmallgalleon.

Getty
Show Hide image

Guns and bullets and nothing more: The Syrian Kurds fighting Isis

They are the US-led coalition's main ally in the fight against Isis, but as Turkey keeps bombing them, the sense of betrayal is growing.

A sense of a betrayal pervaded the funeral, giving an angry edge to the mourners’ grief. The Kurds were used to the Turks killing their people. It was almost expected. What was different in their attitude to the killing of the 14 men and women buried that hot afternoon in the cemetery at Derik, among 20 fighters killed by Turkish air strikes just three days earlier, was that it had occurred under the watchful auspices of the Syrian Kurds’ big ally: America.

So when a US armoured patrol arrived at the edge of the cemetery in northern Syria, the American troops had been met with sullen stares and silence. I watched Aldar Khalil, one of the most influential advisers with the local Syrian Kurdish administration, approach the US army officer while a cordon of armed YPG fighters surrounded the patrol to keep civilians away.

“I told the American officer how angry people felt,” he told me afterwards, “and advised them that as soon as they had achieved what they wanted to at the funeral they should go. Emotions are high. People expected more.”

The air strikes had been far more significant than anything previously visited by the Turks on the YPG, the Syrian Kurd fighting group that has become the Americans’ primary ally in the forthcoming battle to capture the city of Raqqa from Isis. Operations to shape the battlefield around the militants’ capital are ongoing, and some sections of the front YPG units, the mainstay of the anti-Isis alliance, are now less than four kilometres from the outskirts of Raqqa.

However, the entire operation was thrown into jeopardy early on the morning of 25 April, just days before US officials confirmed that President Donald Trump had authorised the direct supply of weapons to the YPG. Turkish jets repeatedly bombed the YPG’s main command centre on Qarachok Mountain, just above the small town of Derik, destroying ammunition stocks, a communications centre and accommodation blocks. The dead included Mohammed Khalil, a top commander involved in planning the Raqqa operation.

The attack immediately drove a wedge between US troops and the Syrian Kurds, who felt they had been knowingly betrayed by the United States, which had acted as the YPG’s ally in the fight for Raqqa with the one hand while allowing its fellow Nato and coalition member Turkey to stab the YPG in the back with the other.

“There were a couple of days after the Qarachok strikes when several of our leading commanders, and many of our people, put on the pressure to withdraw our forces from the Raqqa front altogether and send them to protect our borders with Turkey,” Khalil, the Syrian Kurd adviser, told me. “They wanted to stop the Raqqa operation. We had to explain very carefully that this was [the Turkish president] Erdogan’s goal, and to persuade them to continue.”

Senior YPG commanders suffered deep personal losses in the Turkish air strikes. Among the mourners at Derik was ­Rojda Felat, a joint commander of the overall Raqqa operation. Standing beside the grave of Jiyan Ahmed, one of her closest friends, she clasped a portrait of the dead woman in her hands.

“She survived fighting Da’esh [Isis] in Kobane, in Tal Hamis and Manbij,” Felat said. “She survived all that, only to be killed by a Turkish jet.”

Later, illustrating the fragile contradictions of the coalition’s alliances, Felat explained that she had gone to sleep in the early hours of 25 April, after finishing a series of late-night planning meetings with British and US officers at the forward headquarters she shares with them on the north side of Lake Assad, Syria’s largest lake, when word of the air strikes came through.

“It was very clear to me that the Americans I was with had not known about the air strikes,” said Felat, 35, a legendary figure among Syria’s Kurds whose role models include Napoleon and the socialist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. “They could see how upset and angry I was to learn in an instant that so many friends had been killed, and the Americans dealt with that compassionately. I was extremely distressed, to say the least,” she added, looking away.

Within a few hours of the strikes, Felat was on a US helicopter alongside US officers flown to Qarachok to assess the damage in a very public display of US-YPG solidarity.

The Americans were quick to try to mitigate the damage to their Kurdish allies. A further 250 US troops were sent into Syria to run observation patrols along the Syria-Turkey border in an attempt to de-escalate the tension, bringing the number of US troops there to more than 1,200. In addition, US weapons consignments to the Syrian Kurds increased “manifold” in a matter of days, Felat said.

Yet these measures are unlikely to stop the fallout from a strategy – that of arming the Syrian Kurds – which risks broadening Turkey’s overall conflict with the YPG, unless certain crucial political objectives are attained parallel to the push on Raqqa.

Turkey, at present regarded as a mercurial and mendacious “frenemy” by Western coalition commanders, perceives the YPG as a terrorist organisation that is an extension of its arch-enemy the PKK, a left-wing group demanding greater auton­omy within Turkey. Hence Ankara’s deep concern that the YPG’s growing power in Syria will strengthen the PKK inside Turkey. The Turks would rather their own proxies in Syria – an unattractive hotchpotch of Syrian Islamist groups mistrusted by the West – reaped the rewards for the capture of Raqqa than the YPG.

Although US commanders find the YPG more reliable and militarily effective than the Turkish-backed Islamist groups, the Syrian Kurds are a non-state actor, a definition that ensures B-grade status in the cut and thrust of foreign policy. Nevertheless, recalling the painful lesson of 2003 – that military success is impotent unless it serves a political vision – the US should be devoting energy to imposing conditions on the supply of arms to the YPG as a way of containing Turkish aggression against their ally.

Salient conditions could include the YPG disassociating from the PKK; a cessation in repressing rival political parties in YPG areas; the withdrawal of YPG fighters from northern Iraq, where they are involved in a needless stand-off with Iraqi Kurds; and an agreement by the YPG to withdraw from Raqqa, an Arab city, once it is captured.

As a quid pro quo, and in return for the YPG blood spilled in Raqqa, the Syrian Kurds should have their desire for autonomy supported; have the crippling trade embargo placed on them by the government of Iraqi Kurdistan lifted; and, by means of buffer zones, have their territories protected from further attacks by Turkey and its Islamist proxies.

So far, none of these measures is in play, and comments by US officials have only strengthened a growing suspicion among Syria’s Kurds that they will be discarded by the US the moment the YPG have fulfilled their use and captured Raqqa.

“We have not promised the YPG anything,” Jonathan Cohen, a senior US state department official, told the Middle East Institute in Washington on 17 May – a day after President Erdogan’s visit to the US. “They are in this fight because they want to be in this fight. Our relationship is temporary, transactional and tactical.”

Cohen further said: “We have the YPG because they were the only force on the ground ready to act in the short term. That is where it stops.”

The sense of betrayal felt by the mourners at Derik was perfectly understandable. But Syria’s Kurds should not be so surprised the next time it happens. America, it seems, has promised them nothing more than guns and bullets. 

Anthony Loyd is a war correspondent for the Times

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

0800 7318496