On August 7, Turkish and US officials agreed to jointly manage a buffer zone between the Turkish border and areas in Syria controlled by the Kurdish YPG, which Istanbul considers a “terrorist” threat. On October 6, the Trump presidency announced that US forces would withdraw from the border areas to make way for a “long-planned operation” by Turkish forces. On October 8, Turkey, a member of the US-NATO bloc which hosts a massive US air base at Incirlik – hosting some 5,000 Air Force personnel, tactical nuclear weapons and used to fly sorties over Syria – launched a new military invasion of northern Syria dubbed Peace Spring, which began with airstrikes on positions of Kurdish units. The Syrian Arab Republic branded the operation, part of the old imperialist divide-and-rule of the Middle East on an ethnic and religious basis, as aggression. The Syrian Kurdish forces and the Syrian Arab Army swiftly launched a counter-offensive to block the Turkish advance.
Ghassan Kadi, a Middle East analyst of Lebanon-Syrian origin, is the author of the recently published An Epic of Integrity: The Chronicles of the “War on Syria”, and a frequent contributor to this blog. We are reproducing two of his informative articles, written in March 2016 and originally published on Vineyard of the Sakar, on the issue of the Kurds. In the complex situation which is unfolding, the articles help provide a necessary context for understanding the issue of “Kurdistan” and the legitimate rights of the Kurdish people and sovereign rights of the Syrian Arab Republic.
The Kurds are members of the polity of Syria. In contrast to imperialist ethnocentrism, Mr Kadi affirms, “These Kurds are not Turkish Kurds, they are Syrian Kurds. They live and have lived within Greater Syria for centuries. There is also a huge number of non-Kurdish Syrians who live in that region.”
The Kurdish issue will forever re-surface without a fundamental reform of governance. Mr Kadi urged for a permanent democratic solution based on that principle as well as for a permanent solution for Syria’s security weakness in the north. Natural borders of countries are there for a reason, providing security and territorial integrity. No longer having the Taurus Mountains as Syria’s natural northern border with Turkey is like leaving her largest door wide open for hordes of enemies to march in, as the barbarous ISIS did from northern Iraq. And that is exactly what has happened since 2016. A copy of his acclaimed book was presented to President Bashar al-Assad. We hope he read it. – TS
Kurdish autonomy: Partition or master plan?
By GHASSAN KADI*
(March 21, 2016) – No one can claim to understand what goes on within the Kurdish mind except the Kurds themselves, perhaps not all the Kurds do either.
It is rather amazing that non-Kurds expect Kurds to have one voice, one aspiration, one political orientation, and as if all other nations are united in a manner that is manifested in a single voice. How interesting! Is there a single nation on earth that fits such bill?
Kurds are then often begrudgingly and unfairly referred to as a group of people who are not united. Didn’t George W. Bush win his first presidential election by a margin of a few hundred votes nationwide? Why is it then that the world expects unanimous Kurdish decision-making when the rules of democracy stipulate that 50.01% represents a democratic majority?
The world should leave Kurds alone and respect that they are entitled to have differences, and at the same time appreciate the fact that they have been struggling for statehood and self-determination for a long time.
What we ought to remember is that Kurds have been around for thousands of years, and long before the Levant adopted the Arabic language as its formal language and thus became a part of the Arab World.
Nationality and ethnicity are two different things, and the Assyrian, Aramaic, Chaldean and Kurdish ethnicities, as well as others from the region, are all Syrians.
All ancient indigenous Levantine cultures must have felt alienated when pan-Arabism was at its peak during the Nasser/Baath era and thereabout. After all, Assyrians, Aramaics, Chaldeans …. and Kurds are not Arabs. However, nationality and ethnicity are two different things, and the afore-mentioned ethnicities, as well as others from the region, are all Syrians.
What is exacerbating the Kurdish “problem” in particular is the huge number of Kurds if compared to other ethnicities, their presence in a few states (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran), the lack of ideologies that embrace them and provide them with security, and last but not least, discrimination and persecution. It is little wonder therefore to find them seeking statehood and security.
Any recognition of Kurds is what Turkey fears, and as a result, instead of regarding the Kurds of Turkey as equal citizens to other ethnicities, Turkey regards them as Trojan horses. The way towards nationhood has to be inclusive, but Turkey’s way has historically been discriminatory, divisive and based on maintaining the status quo of Turkman superiority. On the other hand, the Syrian way has matured and ripened during the war, and it is a way that has been baptized by sacrificial blood, sweat and tears, and the Kurds have earned their place with the highest of distinction. The question as to whether the Kurds have realized which of the two nations will embrace them, Syria or Turkey, remains to be answered. All indications however are that they are going back to their Syrian roots.
We have to be honest and fair and say that Kurds have been marginalized, even in Syria. As a matter of fact, some Syrian Kurds do not even have identity cards. There are many stories about how this happened, but the most plausible one is that apparently some Kurds did not register themselves during the 1932 census. They were fearing that the census had a hidden agenda and that they will get targeted. As a result, they missed out on becoming Syrian citizens, and their children and their children suffered the consequences.
The Syrian government will have to find a way to fix this grave anomaly and give Kurds the due respect they deserve.
Erdoğan wanted to displace Syrian Kurds and have them replaced by Syrian Sunnis loyal to him. His whole objective of creating the safety zone within the 80 km northern strip of Syria was about this. That safety zone would have also separated Syrian Kurds from Turkish Kurds and bolstered his dominance over his Kurdish compatriots. But this was not happen.
In a twist of fate, what Erdoğan seems to be receiving at the end of this is quite the opposite.
There has been a lot of talk and innuendo about federation and the newly-announced Kurdish autonomy within Syria. Under normal conditions, autonomy within a state and federation spell danger. They are not at all far away from partition. In this instance however, there could be more than meets the eye at the first glance.
We must pause here for a minute and remember that Putin is intent on stamping out Islamist fundamentalism where it grows and festers. The downing of the Su-24 at the hands of Turkey added more to Putin’s resolve, and now he is more determined to put an end to the Erdoğan dream; which is in reality nothing more than Jihadism with the obsession of revamping the old Ottoman Sultanate.
There are more ways than one in which Kurds can play a huge role in all of this, and if the cards are played correctly and intelligently, a Kurdish autonomous zone in Syria can herald the beginning of a whole new era and an end to the infamous Sykes-Picot accord on a frontier that was last on the agenda.
All territory south of the Taurus Mountains is in reality Syrian. The mountain chain is the geographical barrier that separated the two nations for centuries, and it wasn’t till after the fall of the Ottoman Empire that some regions south of the mountain were considered as part of Turkey. Turkey therefore did not only get away with snatching Cilicia and Iskenderun from Syria, but also the entire region south of the Taurus Mountains.
A couple of years ago or so, President Assad declared that the truce in the Golan has expired and that the door for resistance is now open. He added that at a time of her own choosing, Syria is going to launch the battle of liberation of occupied territories. Did he also include an intention to liberate Cilicia, Iskenderun and Northern Syria (ie south of the Taurus Mountains)? He possibly did.
A conventional war will be very hard to plan for and execute for Syria to reclaim its territory lost to Turkey. However, a Kurdish autonomous zone can, and hopefully with much less bloodshed and human suffering. But how?
Kurds are now on the rise, and the euphoria of winning their fight against Daesh has been echoed by the global accolade they are receiving from an array of parties, including the traditional rivals USA and Russia.
In his blatant anti-Kurdish demeanor, Erdoğan is pouring oil on the fire, but only to his detriment.
When Kurds living in Turkey suffer more brutality and genocidal attacks perpetrated on them by the Turkish military eventually look over the fence and see their brothers and sisters in Syria living in peace, prosperity and dignity, they will want to seek similar privileges. The harsher Erdoğan deals with them, the more they will want to break away from Turkey.
The southern part of Turkey, mainly south of the Taurus Mountains is home to an estimated 30 million Kurds and Alawites (including Alawi Kurds) and Syrian Arabs. Their prospects in that region look very grim indeed. If Erdoğan wises up and genuinely returns to his “Zero Problems” policies, he may be able to resolve the problem peacefully. Sadly, this does not seem to be his intention. He is digging his heels in and bracing for more conflict.
Erdogan is paving the way towards a civil war in Turkey. As a result, Erdogan may lose his popularity and Turkey may end up with a moderate government and return to its rather passive post-Ottoman stance. However, given the global sympathy Kurds have, Turkey, with or without Erdogan, will find it very hard to take full advantage of its military superiority over the Kurds.
So whether a huge or limited civil war erupts in Turkey, or none whatsoever, if the Kurds see in the Syrian Kurdish autonomy experiment a model for them to follow or join, eventually, no one can stop them; not even Turkey.
There are many “ifs” and “buts” here, many “knowns” and more “unknowns”. We can only speculate. Having said that, if we put a certain series of” ifs” together, we may be able to see the proposed federation/autonomy from a very positive perspective.
If the proposed Kurdish Syrian area of autonomy is going to remain under the roof of Damascus, and if the trilateral cooperation on the battlefield between Russia, the Syrian Army and the Kurds has now evolved into a trilateral political and strategic alliance; one that has a long-term vision and understanding, and if the parties have employed their combined knowledge of the region, its people and governments in order to work out a master plan, we could then well and truly be looking at a scenario that is going to herald the start of a chain reaction that will slowly but surely eat away at Turkey’s regional hegemony on occupied land and suppression of its own citizens.
Not only Kurds are underprivileged in Turkey, as so are the Alawites (as mentioned above) and other minority groups. Syrians in the Adana region (which is geographically and historically part of Syria) are derogatively referred to by Turks as “Fallahin” (ie peasants). Such is the state of the Ottoman Empire that Erdogan wants to rebuild, more so ironically, one that many Arab Sunnis (who are not necessarily Jihadis) are praying for it to happen. The people of southern today’s Turkey therefore will feel easily inclined to rise against the rule of Ankara. After all, they have been under Turkish rule since 1516.
If indeed there is a trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish plan to this effect, and I find it to be highly likely, then the coalition would have successfully managed to turn the table around Erdogan in a manner that gives him a taste of his own medicine, and in the most powerful and effective manner possible. After all, Erdogan’s plan to partition Syria and impose his own sphere of influence on it relied on foreign funds, foreign fighters and the risk of having them turn against him. It further relied on NATO support (which it never got), and last but least, it relied on Erdogan’s popularity. With his dwindling popularity and terror blasts hitting at the heart of Ankara, all that Erdogan has ever relied on has slipped through his fingers.
On the other hand, the force that the trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish coalition is banking on is local, determined, highly trained and knows the territory like no other. It does not need to be lubricated by cash or mobilized with captagon. It does not require much logistic back up. Its soldiers can bunker up and live on water and stale bread; and there are millions of them already on the ground.
When we take into account all of the possibilities, we cannot turn a blind eye to the pro-Israeli Kurds (such as the Barazanis of Iraq). Israel has always supported those Kurds, but for different reasons of course. Israel’s interest in these Kurds has always been aimed at weakening Iraq and seeking Kurdish oil.
It will be very difficult to predict how the Syrian Kurdish entity will deal with the Barazani Kurds. If the former eventually proves to be successful and manages to regain Kurdish/Syrian regions presently held by Turkey, will it then be able to marginalize the pro-Israeli Iraqi Kurdish enclave of Barazani? No one knows. We will have to wait to see.
Hopefully, Turkey will not descend into a civil war. All wars are awful, and civil wars are the worst. It is hoped that Erdogan will either see the light or that Turkish people will wake up and vote him out. Either way, the Syrian Kurdish autonomy is going to create new dynamics and generate changes. But those changes do not at all necessarily have to be negative as many fear. The odds suggest otherwise, and no one in his/her right mind can expect any member of the trilateral Russian/Syrian/Kurdish coalition to dump the others at the eve of victory, at the time when they should be celebrating their combined victory. After all, what do the Kurds expect to gain if they go against the grain of the coalition and make their declaration of statehood before the Geneva talks? Such move, if in fact is an act of mutiny as some observers are reading, would be tantamount to nothing short of political suicide.
My reading does not see this. My reading see a potential for a huge Russian-sponsored deal that will bring dignity to the Kurds, resolve their problem, and restore Syrian sovereignty. I cannot be certain that is this the plan, but indications show it is highly likely.
*Ghassan Kadi is a regular contributor and the author of An Epic of Integrity: Chronicles of the ‘War On Syria’ (his appropriate name for this war). First published on Vineyard of the Saker on March 21, 2016
Visit Intibah and Ghassan Kadi’s website.
Syrian-Turkish border security: Checkpoint Taurus
By GHASSAN KADI*
(March 28) – My previous article titled “Kurdish Autonomy; Partition Or Master Plan” was met with some controversy. Some readers seemed to have missed a very basic point it raised. Others misunderstood the main issue and tried to put words into my mouth saying that the article condoned partition and argued that Syrian Kurds should not be given independence and a separate state, even though the article clearly indicated that such was not its objective. This article herein is intended to shed more light on the subject and emphasize an issue that is paramount for long-term Syrian security.
With the return of Tadmor (Palmyra) to the custody of the Syrian Army, the military victory of secular Syria is drawing nearer. Now, this was, still is, a war that was waged on Syria by many nations and facilitated by neighbouring countries that opened their borders to militants and their munitions to cross over, unopposed, carrying everything from small hand-carried machines guns all the way to heavy artillery and even tanks.
Little has been said about the actual route that those supplies took; and specifically, the routes they took from Turkey into Syria. And unless one takes the history of this region into account, the significance of this subject cannot be seen and appreciated.
Like some nations, Syria has natural geographical boundaries. The Syrian Social National Party (SSNP) was founded by Antoun Saade in 1932. The party calls for the reunification of “Greater Syria” (aka Natural Syria and the Fertile Crescent). This article is neither meant to promote the doctrine of that particular party nor is it meant to reject it. This is said because the doctrine of the said party comes in a whole “package” that includes issues other than the natural barriers on Greater Syria, and there is no need to dwell into those issues here and now. On the issue of Greater Syria alone however, what Antoun Saade suggested as the boundaries makes a lot of common sense, especially with respect to the northern borders.
The reason as to why the northern borders are specifically of significance is because Turkey has not been a good and friendly neighbour of Syria. This in fact is a gross understatement as Turkey has been bullish and brutal to an extreme, and for a very long time.
If neighbouring states and nations have good relationships with each other and do not harbour any hostilities towards each other, then all differences and disputes, including border disputes, can either be negotiated or dropped as being of no significance when they do not pose any threat and danger. But such is not the case when it comes to the Syrian-Turkish border line.
Historically, the first real superpower was the Assyrian Empire. The Assyrians were very powerful, and they breached all natural barriers and extended their empire over to Egypt and to most of Anatolia. The borderline between Turkey and Syria did not become a sticking issue till the Muslim conquest of the Byzantines. Faced with the outcome of several military defeats, Emperor Heraclius ordered his troops to retreat and evacuate the areas that are to the south of the Taurus Mountains and east of Tarsus; which is at the western end of the mountain chain as it bends south towards the Mediterranean.
What Heraclius made was a very painful decision, but one that is pragmatic and strategic. He left Syria and secured the southern border of what was left of his empire by a mighty natural barrier; The Taurus Mountains.
At the height of the Muslim Empire (i.e., the Umayyad and Abbasid eras), the Taurus Mountains were breached especially in its eastern regions, where gaps are more abundant and the Muslim Empire advanced to as far as Armenia. But as the Abbasid rule fell apart and the Muslim Empire was subdivided, the Taurus Mountains once again resumed their natural “role” as the borderline between Syria and Turkey. This is seen best during the period of the Hamadani Principality as per map No 1.
Those borders remained unbreached until a counterattack came from the north this time. That was when the Ottomans invaded and captured Syria in 1516 AD. Syrian regions south of the Taurus Mountains fell under Turkish rule back then, and they remain as such ever since.
During the Ottoman rule, the question of borders between Syria and Turkey was nonexistent as Syria recoiled under the iron fist rule of Istanbul. The question did not rise again till after the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
As empires often do, they try not to sever relationships with each other when they can. It is only in rare cases that they totally destroy each other. The example of Rome destroying Carthage remains thus far unique. The Romans killed every Carthaginian man, woman and child. Even World War II, with all of its atrocities, did not thankfully reach such proportions.
With the rise of Ataturk to power, colonial France wanted to turn a new leaf with the new Turkey, at the expense of Syria. The annexation of the Syrian Cilicia and Iskenderun regions to Turkey is often spoken of, but the “gift” of land south of the Taurus Mountains to Turkey is hardly ever mentioned.
With Syria in a constant state of war with Israel, the “liberation of Palestine” high on its early agenda as a new independent post WWII state, the ensuing need for taking back the Golan Heights from Israel climbed its way up the priority ladder to take the lead role.
How many wars Syria should fight and can fight? The region south of Taurus became so ignored and even almost forgotten; but shouldn’t be as such, not anymore.
If one takes a drive from Adana (a Syrian city under Turkish occupation) north towards say Ankara, he/she will have to cross the mighty Taurus Mountain chain. This is a highly inaccessible chain that can only be crossed at certain gates in between the mountain peaks. The Cilician Gates (Gülek Bogazi in Turkish) is the one that has to be crossed taking this particular route.
Troops and armaments that have crossed Turkey into Syria must have used that route. Got the picture?
This harangue is not meant to be a lesson in history or geography. It is about highlighting a basic issue that is essential for the security of Syria.
If one looks at Map 2 with a fresh look, it becomes clear that Syria’s natural defense line had been in Turkey’s hands for a whole century. It did not cause a threat until Erdogan decided to use this strategic advantage to flood Syria with Jihadists.
Had the line joining the mountain peaks been the political border between Syria and Turkey, it would have been virtually impossible for Turkey to send those troops into Syria. And this is the strategic weakness that Syria has, the one that has been and continues to be overlooked despite all of what has happened.
Had Syria had positions and watch towers on mountain tops, breaching its borders would have been close to impossible. With this advantage on Turkey’s side, troops were able to take their time crossing the gauntlet and move into the flat terrain where the current political borders are.
Another close fresh look at Map 2 (see below) reveals something else if it hasn’t been picked up in the first look. The cities of Gaziantep and even Diyarbakir are within geographical and historical Syria. Got the picture?
This is heartland Kurdish territory. This is where virtual real battles are currently raging between the Kurds and the Turkish Army. Hundreds of Kurds have been slaughtered under the watchful eyes of the international community with very little condemnation.
These Kurds are not Turkish Kurds, they are Syrian Kurds. They live and have lived within Greater Syria for centuries. There is also a huge number of non-Kurdish Syrians who live in that region.
The proposed unilateral declaration of Kurdish Federation is nothing but a bit of a joke. It does not represent the views of all Kurds, and not even those of a reasonable minority. It did however receive a lot of hoo-ha perhaps more due to its nature rather actual ability to see the light.
Now here is the deal. Syria can pretend that there is no such thing as a Kurdish question and can pretend that her current northern borders with Turkey do not warrant any concern. On the other hand, she can see in wartime an opportunity to mop up as Pandora’s Box is already open.
With or without any such proposal for federation, Syria should take a leading role and try to capitalize on the situation north of its borders. The time has never been more opportune for Syria to act on this front.
With Russia on her side, with an impending military victory and with turmoil within Turkey, Syria has a golden opportunity to win the hearts and minds of Syrian Kurds living south of Taurus.
As mentioned in the previous article, if those Kurds see their cousins enjoying privileges they don’t have, if they see themselves persecuted and bombed by Erdogan’s troops whilst their cousins are living in peace, prosperity and have the respect they have earned and deserve, they will naturally gravitate towards it.
In a recent interview on Sputnik I drew parallels with Ukraine. Who would have thought that the events of Maidan would lead to the reunification of Crimea with Russian motherland? And we haven’t seen the end of this one yet have we?
Adversity can be turned into opportunity. Crimea was reunified with Russia without a war and without bloodshed.
The bottom line here is that the Kurdish issue needs to be resolved, and there are perhaps only four ways to deal with it:
1. Ignore it and hope that it will go away, but it won’t.
2. Deal with Kurds the Erdogan way, which is inhumane and totally unacceptable to put it very mildly.
3. Succumb to present and future pressure and eventually allow for federation under dangerous terms that may lead into partition, or
4. See the silver lining and try to turn the situation against Turkey and get Kurds and other non-Kurd Syrians living south of the Taurus Mountains to seek reunification with mother Syria.
This is not a call for a new war. Given Turkey’s history of aggression and thuggery, and given that it may act aggressively again, Syria has all the right to seek the prevention of new wars and secure its northern borders within her geographical barriers and hold the key for checkpoint Taurus.
*Ghassan Kadi, a native of Beirut, Lebanon is a political analyst of Middle East affairs. He is the author of An Epic of Integrity: The Chronicles of the War On Syria. Visit Intibah and Ghassan Kadi’s website.