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Friday, September 28, 2012

Turkey faces the unintended consequences of its regional meddling—Part 1

From A World to Win News Service/ and Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist);

24 September 2012.

Turkey is playing a central role in the U.S.-led campaign to bring down Bashar al-Assad. Now it is being confronted with the possibility that instead of strengthening Turkey's influence in the region, the weakening of the Syrian regime may create the most serious challenge the Turkish government headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has faced so far.

Until only recently the two regimes were close allies. One of the points of unity between Assad's Baathist Party and Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) was their opposition to the Kurdish movement in both countries. Not only do Kurds in the two countries have strong historical ties, a significant number of Kurds in Syria are from families that fled repression in Turkey, and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), though based in Turkey, includes many Kurds born in Syria. Now  Assad is "playing the Kurdish card",  trying to use the Kurds to threaten Turkey.

Following are excerpts from a lengthy article in issue 60 of Haghighat, the publication of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) entitled "The development of Syria’s civil war and the possibility of its spread to neighbouring countries, and the perspective of the formation of a state of Kurdistan".

The civil war between the two reactionary sides in Syria has gone through another turning point. The Bashar al-Assad regime has pulled back its troops from five Kurdish cities in northern Syria and largely left control of this region to Kurdish forces, especially the Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish organization linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) based in Turkey.

Turkey has threatened to attack Syria militarily in response to PKK attacks launched from Kurdish areas in Syria. In mid-August U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to Turkey to review possible scenarios for regime change in Syria. U.S. officials reaffirmed Turkey's importance as a "strategic partner in the region". One of the most important agreements is to leave the key institutions and military apparatus of the Syrian state intact.

The existence and configuration of Syria, like that of Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq, are the outcome of the way the colonial powers France and Britain drew borders as they gobbled up the collapsed Ottoman Empire after World War One. Today, too, underlying the civil war in Syria is the confrontation and contention of big powers such as the U.S., Russia and the European countries over the Middle East. They are fighting to redivide control of that region among themselves – an event that could lead to re-drawing the borders of Syria. Russia has stubbornly supported the Assad regime in order to preserve its influence in the Middle East and its status as a powerful country.

The position of the U.S. as the dominant superpower in the Middle East and also the present stability of the Turkish regime depend on their role in this dangerous battlefield. In the Middle East walls are being shaken and we should not assume that the outcome of these events will be written by the present masters of the Middle East

Turkey is caught between internal fissures and its role as a regional gendarme

Turkey sees itself as the architect of a new Syria and ultimately a new Middle East, a role assigned by the U.S. From a base camp built near Adana, a city in southern Turkey near the Syrian border, the Turkish regime is closely monitoring developments in Syria and training, militarily and politically, the forces opposed to the Assad regime known under the umbrella name of "the Free Syrian Army" (FSA). The camp is in Incirlik, where the U.S./Nato/Turkish air base is located. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also active in this project. Turkey controls the camp and is the main coordinator and sponsor.

At the same time, Turkey's concern that it may not be able to control the situation in Syria is not unfounded, because of the support for the Assad regime by some of the world's most powerful countries such as Russia and regionally strong countries such as Iran. Their attempts to sabotage Turkey's project is gathering momentum. Moreover, Jihadi Salafi groups have quickly grown and raised their black banners on the gates and in the centres of many towns and cities. According to reports, the Salafis, with their superior armament and financial support, have been able to put themselves at the head of a movement that includes other Islamic and secular forces.

The U.S. and Turkish governments recognize the FSA as the sole "representative of the Syrian people", but they have not been able to bring the Salafi forces under its command. (International Herald Tribune, 31 July 2012) The FSA is not formally a religious group, but uses an Islamic discourse in its call for Syrians to overthrow the Assad regime.

The PKK's growth in Syrian Kurdistan

Another factor seriously challenging Turkey's role in the Middle East is the increase in PKK activities in Syria's Kurdish regions. In July and the beginning of August, following the pull-back of Assad's military forces from Kurdish cities in northern Syria, fighters and cadres close to the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers' Party under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan) moved in and took control of those cities, raising the Kurdistan banner and putting up Ocalan's pictures on the front of governmental offices. This took Turkey's government and ruling party by surprise and made it very nervous. On the other hand, Kurdish people in Turkey took to the streets to celebrate it as a victory. There is a rumour that a Kurdish autonomous republic may be declared in northern Syria.

The Turkish press wrote that: "in the absence of Assad's forces, PKK has taken advantage and is filling the power vacuum." It is said that Assad withdrew his security and military forces based on an agreement between the Syrian government and PKK that the Democratic Union Party (PYD) would be allowed to take control of these cities. [Also see International Crisis Group report no. 219, 11 September 2012]

At the same time, PYD forces were also able to reach an agreement with Massoud Barzani (the head of Kurdish Regional Government in northern Iraq) and, in unity with the Kurdish National Council, formed an organization called the "High Council of Kurds" trained and supported by Barzani forces) that has taken control of Kurdish cities in Syria. The Turkish regime was outraged by this unity between the Kurdish National Council and the PYD, which it had previously warned against. 

A Turkish newspaper wrote that "PYD representatives hurried to meet with the head of northern Iraq's Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), Massoud Barzani, in Erbil, and agreed to run the Kurdish region in Syria in a partnership with the pro-Barzani KNC. The Erbil agreement signed on June 11 between the KNC and the Council of Western [Iraqi] Kurdistan formed a joint leadership to run the Syrian cities taken by the PYD…

"As soon as the agreement was signed and before the coalition administration was formed and the Barzani-trained pro-KNC forces made their way to northern Syria, the PYD supporters took the initiative and in a prior agreement with the Syrian regime took control of the area. Now the PYD's rule is fully established, and PKK flags and Abdullah Ocalan’s portraits are spread all over the government administration offices." (Today's Zaman, 31 July 2012)

In reaction to these events Turkey threatened to send its military into Syrian Kurdistan. In order to create public opinion, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the PKK of cooperating with Bashar al-Assad to invade Syrian Kurdistan. At the same time PKK stepped up its military activities in the Hakari region of south-eastern Turkey. This situation has increased the internal political pressure on the Tayyip Erdogan regime. Even those who used to criticize Erdogan for his "recognition" of Kurdish rights are now criticizing him for not seriously following the plan for a compromise between the regime and the PKK.

In a word, the intensification of civil war in Syria suddenly and greatly amplified the role of Kurdish forces in the unfolding of events in the region.

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