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Turkey enraged by Clintons' TV show exalting Syrian Kurdish women fighters

Turkey’s state-run press agency is churning out angry coverage of former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea producing a TV series about the Syrian Kurdish women fighters who were key in defeating the Islamic State.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 05: Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton speak onstage at 'Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton discuss their new book 'The Book of Gutsy Women' at The Wilshire Ebell Theatre on November 05, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

The Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run media outlet, has lashed out at news that former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea have acquired the rights to produce a TV series based on a forthcoming book by bestselling American journalist and novelist Gayle Tzemach Lemmon on the Syrian Kurdish women fighters who helped defeat the Islamic State.

Anadolu claimed that the Clintons would be “whitewashing terrorists” and went on to list Turkey’s standard gripes about the United States’ alliance with the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their all-female arm, the Women’s Protection Units (YPJ). Turkey insists both groups are terrorists because of their links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been waging a 36-year-old insurgency against the Turkish state.

“In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of nearly 40,000 people, including, women, children and infants. The YPG is the PKK’s Syrian offshoot,” Anadolu said.

The YPJ makes no secret of their admiration for imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, whose mustachioed face grins down from giant-sized portraits in their barracks and dorms. He is exalted in particular because of his emphasis on gender equality, reflected in the appointment of women as “co-chairs” in every PKK-linked outfit, and his numerous, rather obscure books extolling the qualities of the opposite sex.

lham Ahmed, the executive chair of the Syrian Democratic Council and who is among the most powerful women in the Syrian Kurdish movement, welcomed the news of the Clintons' decision to acquire the broadcasting rights for "The Daughters of Kobani." She told Al-Monitor, "This is a very good project. It is an especially significant move that an American woman [Hilary Clinton]  is undertaking it. The YPJ made courageous sacrifices and continues to do so. This series will be a very important endeavour, indeed a strategic one from the point of view of women's freedom." 

The PKK has enlisted women for decades. But the YPJ’s women guerrillas shot to global fame with their fearless campaign against IS, making the cover of Marie Claire, a glossy women’s magazine that is published in France. Adulated by the Western media, the YPJ became the bane of the jihadis, allegedly for whom being killed by a woman means an automatic ticket to hell according to their interpretation of the Quran.

HiddenLight Productions, the new company founded by the Clintons, had to wage a war of its own, outbidding numerous rivals to win the rights to adapt “Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice” to the silver screen. The book is due to be published by Penguin on Feb. 16. Lemmon has authored two New York Times bestsellers so far. One of them, "Ashley’s War," is being adapted by Universal Pictures and US movie star Reese Witherspoon’s company as a feature film.

Aliza Marcus, the author of “Blood and Belief,” the most authoritative account of the PKK to date, read an initial draft of “The Daughters of Kobani.” She told Al-Monitor, “Gayle’s book is an incredible exploration of the Kurdish battle against the Islamic State and America’s decision to support the one group that had shown itself willing to risk everything to defeat the Islamic State.” Marcus added, “What Gayle does is show how important women were to this struggle, and it’s a moving and important story.”

Al-Monitor was also granted access to an advance copy of the book. It draws on three years of research and on-the-ground interviews conducted by the author, including seven reporting trips to northeast Syria between 2017 and 2020. The story centers on four women fighters from the YPJ and includes interviews with leading figures in northeast Syria as well as US policy-makers.

While there is little question that Lemmon, a seasoned journalist and a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is swept away by her Syrian Kurdish subjects, she also goes to great lengths to provide historical context and balance to her story in ways that acknowledge Turkey’s concerns.

But that is unlikely to impress Turkey and the question of whether it will bother to launch a lobbying campaign against the enterprise remains an open one.

Lemmon declined to comment for this story.

The American streaming service Hulu has already released a series called “No Man’s Land” that highlights the prowess of the YPJ in action-packed scenes in which they engage their jihadi adversaries. The highly popular French spy thriller "Le Bureau des Legendes" has a season set in northeast Syria in which the YPJ are showcased. Lemon’s book, however, provides the Clintons with much original material to work with and luckily for them, it's rooted in the facts.

Update: Jan. 26, 2020. This article has been updated with a statement from Ilham Ahmed.

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