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Syria – War Without End

This week has seen the culmination of a months long military buildup targeted, somewhat embarrassingly for us, at Kurdish strongholds near the Turko-Syriac border. Turkey’s intentions have long been known – this is not by any means a surprise attack – but they have been frustrated by both Russia and the USA in turn, the Russians because they did not like Turkey’s anti-Assad Free Syrian Army (FSA) proxies, and the USA because they have yet again armed and encouraged a marginalised ethnic paramilitary organisation for short term gain. The ground in Syria is confusing, even at the best of times, and this single, relatively new front, is no exception.

In order to understand Turkey’s actions, we have to remember a little bit of history. Turkey was invented at the conclusion of WWI. Previously the heartland of the once great Ottoman Empire, the scavenging rapacity of the Western, still very colonial powers left them in serious danger of becoming a rump state, i.e., a nation too small and too isolated to ever function properly within its region. Much of the credit for Turkey’s miraculous stability and prosperity through most of the twentieth century is given to Mustapha Kemal’s eager embrace of Western style modernisation, but it has to be remembered that the real basis for Turkey’s current power lies in the lightning series of aggressive military campaigns undertaken by Kemal while everyone else was busy dealing with the aftermath of Versaille. In a manner very similar to Israel in the sixties, the Turkish military carved its way to control of major access points and trade routes which would have been denied them according to the original lines on the map. What most of us vaguely remember from these short, sharp, and really quite nasty wars, is the dispossession of the Kurds and the Armenian genocide.

Insofar as the Kurds are concerned, their territories were carved up in various deals and tit for tats between Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. Being an indigenous mountain people, the Kurds simply fell off the priority list of the League of Nations through a combination of entrenched Western chauvinism and the dirty rough and tumble of post war bargain-making and diplomacy. Given that their dispossession and reduction to minority status was in direct violation of the first treaty for the region, and also that as a numerous mountain tribal complex they were already reasonably well armed and acclimatised to warfare, various Kurdish groups began insurgencies, guerrilla, and terror campaigns, many of which are still running to this day. And it is this background which helps to explain why the Turkish government is both implacably opposed to Kurdish sovereignty, and assured of broad popular support for a campaign of subjugation, or even extermination. The territory the Kurds are naturally asking for is, in many cases, the exact territory taken by Ataturk as vital to the power and function of the Turkish nation. And a significant portion of the populace have lived for decades with blitz attacks, bombings, kidnappings, murders, and some instances of full blown civil war, all inflicted on them in the cause of Kurdish independence.

Given that Turkey is a NATO member and nominal ally of the US, it’s natural to wonder why they armed and trained some of their ally’s bitterest regional enemies in the first place. It should be remembered that the US, along with the rest of the Western world, was extremely reluctant to intervene in the Syria crisis in any way. The rise of IS, and their unexpected success in re-drawing the Middle Eastern map were the main trigger for US intervention, and one of the first targets of IS were the strongholds of Kurdish militias just south of Turkey and in the north of Iraq. Add to this the FSA’s general incoherence and lack of success, the fact that many of the other rebel factions were more or less tied to Al Qaeda, and an Iraqi army which had lost most of its seasoned and effective leadership to IS and Al Qaeda affiliates, and the decision becomes easier to understand. At the time it was made, the FSA was either licking its wounds in camps on the Turkish border or being pounded by Russian air power intent on accidentally on purpose confusing them with IS and the Al Nusra Front, with the rest of the territory being a happy hunting ground for Sunni insurgents, Iranian proxies, and other unacceptable or otherwise utterly ineffective allies. The Kurds were basically the only option beyond a full scale, boots on the ground invasion.

This latest Turkish offensive could be seen as yet another worrying precursor to WWIII, but more rational reflection reveals that this is not, in fact, the main cause for concern. Turks fighting Kurds has been ops normal for decades, even if not to this scale. And while it’s very difficult to see the USA brokering any kind of deal while its government is in the hands of a petulant, incoherent child, or even to predict what they might do on any given day, if they stick to historical form they will simply abandon the Kurds to their fate. What’s worrying here is that there is every sign that a deal has been cut, and that Western interests have been frozen out. The trigger for the attack seems to have been the withdrawal of Russian observers, deployed to the region as a buffer against Turkish aggression. Given that the Turks are spearheading their assault with Turkish armed and flagged FSA fighters, it’s pretty apparent that they’ve cut a deal with Russia, which also means that they necessarily have an understanding with the Syrian regime, as Russia’s client. What also seems clear to me, however, is that Syria, Russia, and Turkey combined, are not by any means certain to eliminate or neutralise the Kurdish threat. Their attention is divided, their capability limited, and their scope for action seriously hampered by global, and especially US, attention. So what this front most probably indicates is an escalation in yet another interminable slowburn of bloodshed for an already beleaguered region.

Category: Violence

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