Category Archives: Turkey

Assad and Erdogan’s new alliance?

It looks as though there are some startling shifts in alliances in the Syrian civil war. Although for quite some time it has been less a Syrian civil war and more a proxy war between super-powers and tyrannical regimes in the region.

What is the relationship now between Turkey and the US?

Erdogan continues to strut arrogantly around – bolstered by his overcoming of the coup against him. Russia and the Syrian dictator, Assad, rub their hands with glee as Erdogan approaches them independently of the US for mutual favours. The US desperately seems to be playing catch-up, as the militias and the forces they finance and logistically support are turned by Turkey on each other.

The US were long reported to have been angry about Erdogan’s failure to act against ISIS. After all a successful war against ISIS, necessary for the US’s public credibility, is costing them a lot of money with no seeming end in sight.

Many of the leading figures in the recent attempted military coup in Turkey were known to be pressuring Erdogan to act and send troops against ISIS. Whether was this for anti-Islamist reasons or those of Turkish military pride – or both – is not clear to me.

After the failed coup, Erdogan accused the US of helping the attempted military coup against him. He then made approaches to Russia and for the first time argued that Assad need not go as a precondition for peace.

It is clear that more significant negotiations are also going on between Russian/ Assad/ Erdogan about common interests: a key one of these, at least to Assad and Erdogan, would be their common opposition to any Kurdish autonomy.

US Vice President Joe Biden following the coup rushed to Turkey in order to be seen to be repairing relationships with Erdogan. He stood alongside Erdogan demanding that the SDF/YPG leave the area west of the Euphrates, around Manbij, which the US only a few weeks before had helped the YPG take after a fierce siege.

Finally, Turkey sends troops into Syria with clear agreement from Assad. It is difficult to believe that this wasn’t done without NATO and US knowledge. Nevertheless, the US acts as if it has been publicly offended by this act.

After all, the Turkish action ended up with two of the US’s allies fighting against each other, the comparatively new Jaysh al Tahrir (acting with Turkey) and the US’s longer term ally, the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Whatever else these events prove, one thing is clear. Turkey is not just a US pawn, an argument unfortunately too common on some sections of the left about Turkey and other Middle Eastern sub-imperialist countries. It simply isn’t true, Turkey is currently calling the shots here.

Intrique and double-dealing

It is difficult to predict what is going on between the US and Turkey. The cynical double-dealing of all the main players, Russia, US, Assad, is probably at its height at the moment. Some even think that the CIA both helped set up the military coup and leaked it to Erdogan and that they wanted a failed coup in order to help him.

I find that hard to believe. But not because of the implied gross duplicity of the US secret services – that I can believe. I just cannot believe the US would want Erdogan’s increased popularity amongst his Turkish supporters. A popularity that now gives him greater independence from them and able to pursue new relationship with Putin or Assad.

Is partition on the cards?

Some argue that what we are seeing is a move towards a partition of Syria between a Kurdish-dominated area, a Turkey-dominated area and a reduced territory under Assad. If that were to happen, how long could such a partition last or would it be just a short breathing space before another conflict?

About turns are not easy or predictable

The Syrian rebellion is probably close to defeat – symbolised by the fall of Daraya and the imminent collapse in Aleppo. The military coup in Turkey was put down. Each of these events have given their victors, Assad and Erdogan, the confidence to forge a new alliance with Russia’s help. Together with Putin, they see an opportunity to form a new alliance.

But abrupt reversals, especially in the exceptionally cynical alliances that exist within Syria, can cause huge problems. Subordinate elements do not do as they are told!

In defiance of the US’s instructions the YPG have stated that they will not move across to the east of the Euphrates river. If they did so, they would be sacrificing the bridgehead to the Kurdish canton of Afrin and to other potentially besieged Kurdish communities in Aleppo.
Erdogan will not leave a Kurdish dominated area alone even if the US told him to.

  1. They have long had imperialist ambitions of occupying sections of oil-rich northern Syria including the areas west of the Euphrates.
  2. They are conducting a vicious war on their own Kurdish community to destroy any hopes of autonomy, why would they tolerate an autonomous are Kurdish area in Syria?
  3. And even though they eventually dropped their opposition to a Kurdish autonomous area in Iraq, Rojava is not the KRG and the PYD is not the KPD.

Assad bombs YPG held Haska

Assad bombs YPG held Haska

What is now the relation between Assad and the YPG? The YPG have long denied that they have had any formal alliance with Assad. They have claimed they were exploiting his weakness whilst concentrating on fighting ISIS. Their opponents amongst the Syrian rebels frequently define them as being in ‘collaboration’ with Assad. Whatever the relationship may have been in the past, now it is certainly no longer either of those in the wake of the the assault and bombings of Hasaka by Assad’s forces.

Assad’s forces have been in Hasaka but he still feels comparatively confident – at least in comparison with where he has been in the past. The bloody bombardment of his people elsewhere in Syria has to some degree worked – they have been starved and mass-murdered into submission. Some undoubtedly will not surrender but continue to fight on.
So as part of the deal there may be further migration of both the militias and populations that opposed him into areas not under his control – perhaps into the Turkish dominated area of a partitioned Syria.

Where does ISIS stand?

ISIS are clearly in retreat in both Iraq and Syria. Primarily in Syria through the actions of the SDF/ YPG.

Now that ISIS are weak and after the Turkish government allowed them freedom of movement across the border for years, it now uses them as their public justification for military action in Syria.

But the primary intention of Erdogan remains to drive the anti-Islamist Syrian Democratic Forces back as far as he can.

Where have the all the Saudis gone?

The Saudi regime appears to have been sidelined considerably as a big player in Syria. Even more so has the mini-state of Qatar – an earlier major financier of jihadists in Syria.

It was only 9 months ago that Saudi Arabia was given the prestigious role by the UN of diplomatically unifying the anti-Assad opposition during the Geneva peace talks. However, you hear nothing now of the so-called ‘Riyadh opposition’.

A proper analysis of their marginalization in Syria requires more analysis and facts than I currently have access to. But it appears that despite the huge supply of Saudi-financed arms and the influx into Syria of many thousands of volunteer Saudi Wahhabi fighters – they have, as in Afghanistan, proved to have been more of a liability to the Syrian opposition than a benefit.

Suicidal activists and Islamist fanaticism did, and in places may still do, provide a fearsome edge for those fighting back against Assad. But the Islamists’ political objectives inevitably are anathema to many of those who believe they are still fighting against Assad for freedom.

Whenever the Islamists started to become dominant and started to shape society, the repellent undemocratic nature of their ideology was seen.

A brutal quasi-state like the Islamic State can be built in a closed territory where there is absolute and brutal control and where dissent is ruthlessly repressed as has existed in Saudi Arabia for decades.

But an authoritarian Islamist regime can’t be built in one suburb or small town where there may be competing ideologies and leaders, capable of undermining them, a short distance away.
There are other major Islamist outfits in Syria, Ahrar al Sham, Jaish al-Islam or Jabhat Fatah al Sham (formerly Al Nusra). They however were restrained not only by their financial and logistic dependence by their overseas Wahhabist sponsors, they have never had that degree of total control over a territory.

On occasion Nusra has attempted to enforce its will but it has led to civil and military conflict between them and more popular forces – as in Idlib province last March when there were both street demonstrations in support of the Free Syrian Army’s 13th Division when Nusra moved against them.

Is long-term Turkish domination of part of Syria possible?

After cynically supporting chaos in Syria Erdogan now wants to exercise more direct domination through occupation and greater control over Turkey’s 800 miles border with Syria.

His target with both is likely to be not only ISIS but all militias he doesn’t control: those under the influence of Saudi Arabian Wahhabism but above all and, of course, the Kurds.

Turkey wants even greater control of who gets arms and fighters and thereby gains political control and they are now doing so through direct occupation and where they feel unable to occupy a greater control of the border.

A 40 mile wall has been built from Öncüpınar to Çobanbey and that has reduced the flow of fighters to ISIS and other militias Turkey disapproves of. Allegedly 2,000 fighters came through this border before the wall – this has been reduced by up to 90%! And the wall is being extended to reduce this more. See Hurriyet Daily news

A strengthening of Erdogan and Assad’s control will not bring peace

Both the US and Russia may think a stalemate and a partition may be worth working together towards.

Hopes for a temporary peace through partition may also be welcomed by others, particularly after the mass slaughter that has been seen, primarily by Assad of his own people.

If the YPG are also allowed to finish their job against ISIS in eastern Syria, Obama may be able to go into retirement claiming a job done, at least in part. However, the US have little control over Erdogan who may continue his attacks there on the YPG.

There are still huge obstacles to a Turkish/ Syrian enforced partition. Their common enemy, the YPG/SDF, will not be easily removed from western Syria even with US acquiescence. Why should the YPG/ SDF ally with the US in the east if they are stabbed in the back in the west?

The Syrian anti-Assad opposition have not yet been defeated in Aleppo despite a phenomenal assault.

But the gulf between the Kurdish secular militias and the Syrian rebels remains as high as ever. The Arab allies of the YPG in the SDF are not that extensive and may be more a military one than having a shared vision of any multi-ethnic, secular Syria.

The hope for long-term peace and democracy in Syria needs a coming together of those that reject both religious and ethnic sectarianism. The PYD, at least in theory, with their calls for a secular and democratic confederation provided some possibilities of progress to that.

But civil wars are not easy places for political debate.

When barrel bombs and heavy artillery are slaughtering everyone around you, people fight back together regardless of ideology – there is a basic defensive communalism and an understandable astonishment that the world or neighbouring communities do not lift a hand to defend you.

When ISIS are selling women into sex slavery and beheading whoever they like, it is difficult for secular fighters (Kurdish or Arab) to trust those who want Sharia Law, no matter how different from ISIS’s variant.

There has undoubtedly been examples of democratic self-administration in areas freed of Assad’s terror and still inspired by the secular 2011 aims of Syria’s Arab Spring. Some people have argued those community organisations in Free Syria have effectively countered the sectarian agenda of some of the militias operating there. On occasion there have been civil and military conflict with them – as in Maarat-Al-Numanin Idlib province last March when there were both street demonstrations in support of the Free Syrian Army’s 13th Division.

But the anarchy, in both good and bad senses of the word, will not be allowed by either Assad or Erdogan. They will control and will attack democratic formations in any territory they dominate.

Those opposing the tyranny of them both and supporting democracy, both Kurds and Syrian, will need to find a way of uniting against them.

Stop Turkey’s war on the Kurds

National Demonstration 6th March

National Demonstration 6th March

Across Kurdish areas in South Eastern Turkey, areas that are overwhelmingly ethnically Kurdish, a virtual civil war is going on. What the right wing Turkish AKP government describes as “security operations” were first launched in the Sur district of Diyarbakır and the Cizre and Silopi districts of Şırnak in mid-December.

The alleged target of this offensive is the Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party), an organisation which had an on-off ceasefire with the Turkish government over the last few years whilst Kurds increasingly turned to legal political campaigning with their party the HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). That ceasefire was eventually called off in November after numerous assassinations and killings of Kurdish politicians and civilians.

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 08.01.10According to the HDP, at least 200 Kurdish civilians, including 70 children, had been killed since last July -the Turkish government claims to have killed 500 ‘militants’. Only last Saturday, 6th February, 60 were killed in Cizre alone. Cizre has been under curfew for nearly 2 months since armed Kurdish militants mostly affiliated with the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) – often referred to as the “youth wing” of the PKK – declared autonomy and began erecting roadblocks and digging trenches.

On Monday 8th February the regime announced that the repression would be extended into the İdil district of Şırnak, Nusaybin district of Mardin and Yüksekova district of Hakkari. Continue reading

What might the US/ UK plans be for Syria and Iraq?

Thought experiment – if I was the CEO of an oil conglomerate or a US/ UK or French politician wanting to keep wealthy owners of the highly profitable armaments industry happy, what would I consider an acceptable solution in the Iraq/ Syria conflict?

I would think that the big mistake was to have allowed the ISIS/ Daesh genie out of the bottle. They are out of control and cannot be dealt with. If only we (US/UK imperialism) had allowed the Saudis a bigger role in sorting out Saddam back in 1992 and making concessions to the upstart at the time of Osama Bin Laden.SaudiArms

After all Saudi Arabia has long been an ally and the Saudi and Western wealthy have served each other well. Why not allow them a freer rein?

Let them pull back the forces of Al Qaida, Sunni tribesmen in fear of Iranian Shia sectarianism and even pull back some from the Daesh with the vision of a Wahhabist Sunni state with a subsidized/ oil-rich ruling class and sufficient sectarian terror to keep the religious fanatics happy.

With the new friends the US is making in Iran – they already have firm control of the Shia sectarians in Syria and Iraq – if the civil war continues, they could give birth to new uncontrollable sectarians – a sectarian mirror image and as out-of-control of a stable state as the Daesh are.

So why not push for a new partition of Iraq and Syria with a Sunni Wahhabist state and a Shia Iranian-client state?

The balance of terror resulting from a repartition of Iraq and Syria and the creation of 2 proxy states of Iran and Saudi will take some negotiation. Russia wouldn’t like losing Assad – but he is a spent force. But an enhanced ‘Cold War’ between Saudi Arabia and Iran and their proxy states would keep the Arab world divided as well as be good for both Russian and Western arms profits.

Iran is still a bit of a problem for the US. They could still blow up a Sunni-Shia repartition and cold war settlement –  Russia could easily see an advantage in doing that and currently the US has no direct influence over Iran. If I was a US imperialist, whilst wanting to keep nuclear arms out of Iran’s hands I would be throwing aid, trade, bribes and other means of influencing the Iranian leaders. I would have to explain why I am arming their rival, Saudi Arabia, to the teeth. But Iran will surely understand – it is just business.

However, the Kurdish parts of Syria and Iraq could not be gobbled up by either sectarian Islamist forces. But the KRG in Iraq has been well tested and can be trusted by the West. The problem is, of course, the Syrian Kurds – their fledgling democracy could influence the Iraq Kurds or have even wider influence in the area. And there’s the rub.

That is why Rojava – Kurdish Northern Syria must be kept weak.

This is not so much a thought experiment – a lot of this has already happened – especially on the Saudi side who have not only been able to launch a war in Yemen to assert their power but have also massively extended their power in Syria where huge funds and arms are now flowing from Saudi to re-organise the Sunni forces. The concessions to Iranian influence has already de facto been made in Iraq.

Of course, for a democrat – for a socialist this would be a horrific solution. It is why we need to talk with, work with and support secular workers across the Middle East urgently to start working for an alternative democratic solution – because the above plans are already well-advanced.

But for an oil billionaire or a US or UK imperialist – a democratic solution where the natural wealth of the Middle East would be fairly distributed amongst its people – that is what would be scary.

My speech made at Kobane solidarity protest today

What can we do to support Kobane? What can we do to stop ISIS? 10590553_10152790809121228_1497909991869584864_n

In many debates people are saying that nothing can be done. They tell you that “the US won’t do anything good – they will just work with Turkey.”

They will tell you that the US and UK have a disastrous history of intervention that has only caused problems for democratic people in Iraq, Syria and Turkey – which is true

They will say just don’t get involved. They will say, we should call for “Hands Off”. They say “Hands Off Iraq”, “Hands Off Syria”.

They may even tell you that there are no people who can be trusted with having arms to fight off the evil of ISIS.

We the supporters of the Kurdish defenders of Kobane cannot accept any of this.

We should demand that that we put out our hands out to support Kobane.

We should say that there are democrats in Kurdistan in particular who are fighting and need to be supported.

We should look for and make alliances elsewhere in the region – wherever we can find democrats like the forces in Kobane and Rojava.

We should support those agitating in Turkey for support for the Kurdish defenders of Kobane.

In the UK and US we should question and challenge the refusal of our governments to condemn Turkish complicity with the siege of Kobane.

ISIS is an organization of terror

It has benefited from the chaos created by the invasion and occupation by the US and UK. During that occupation some concessions were made to the Kurdish people in the Kurdish Regional government. But the Iraq occupation allowed Maliki to foster Shia extremism. The occupation in Iraq never sought to help democrats and trade unions in Iraq.

When the Arab Spring started in 2011, in Syria and elsewhere it did nothing but look for a strong leader it could support and ‘buy off’. And when it didn’t find one – it did nothing. The US (and the UK) allowed the fledging democratic revolt against Assad to face repression without offering support.

And when the economic allies of the US and UK – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey – started to flood the Syrian civil war with weapons and Islamist fighters – Western governments said nothing and did even less.

IS has not fallen from the sky – it does not live without money, without an ideology, without supply routes and without arms.

IS has been created by the territorial ambitions of wealthy oil billionaires in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and elsewhere – it survives through alliances with powerful forces in Turkey.

IS did not come from nowhere

  • it has a variant of the barbaric ideology of the Saudi regime where over 20 beheadings took place in August
  • it is driven by the territorial and economic greed of parts of the Saudi ruling class and other ruling classes such as Qatar.

Without Saudi and Qatari money – ISIS would not exist. Without Saudi Arabia‘s version of Sharia – ISIS would have no ideology. In Saudi Arabia, they have a model for the regime they intend to build – a regime of terror and a brutal interpretation of Sharia

After the chemical attack in Damascus a year ago – the House of Commons debated bombing Assad’s forces – but there was no proposal to back democrats in Syria or in Rojava – Western Kurdistan.

Bombs alone will not defeat ISIS, just as they won’t defeat Assad. An armed democratic people will – but that was not even considered by the British parliament.

Russia on the other hand have backed Assad and his brutal oppression in Syria.

The powerful armies and economies of both East and West did little or nothing to support democracy against the tyrannical forces in Syria – either those of IS or Assad

They did little or nothing whilst Maliki in Iraq promoted the Shi’a – Sunni divisions in Iraq.

We must demand that changes. We must demand that only democrats are supported throughout the region.

But if we are to do that then we must know that it is not in the nature of either the US or UK government to do that.

If the US government are now bombing IS in order to relieve Kobane then that is a result of international pressure. Without that pressure they would be doing as Turkey are doing – nothing.

The US is an imperialist power – the interests that determine their policy are the billionaires who profit from their relationship with Saudi Arabia and most of the other oil states. But the US also claims it is democratic and is susceptible through its people to the anger of its own people.

If the siege of Kobane had only lasted a week-end and a massacre followed then they could have pretended ignorance, lack of knowledge and surprise. Erdogan would have cried ‘crocodile tears’.

But after the heroic defence of Kobane by the YPG and YPJ – no-one can claim surprise at what is happening.

Questions are already being asked in the US.

UN special envoy to the region Staffan de Mistura has demanded that Kurdish fighters are let through the Turkish/ Syrian border and that the Kurds be armed.

He has warned that if that doesn’t happen then there will be a massacre. If that happens – the US will be subjected to serious questions from democrats amongst its people. They can and should face shame and more.

If you want to know why it took over 20 days for the US to give any air support to the siege of Kobane – that is your answer. Because they thought they could get away with it – but realize now that they can’t.

We need to continue that pressure – as democrats, as workers, as internationalists. Together from all countries, of all nationalities, form Kurdish democrats and workers, from British workers and democrats, from every ethnic minority, we should say to the US and UK governments:

  1. Give arms to those who can be trusted to fight against the barbarism of IS and for democracy.
  2. Do as the democratic Kurdish fighters in Rojava want, in terms of military support – AND … ONLY do as they ask you!
  3. End any military alliance or support to Erdogan in Turkey who watches and does nothing as Kobane burns – and even welcomes Kobane burning

And we must remember that only our vigilance, our work – the work and solidarity of democrats throughout the world can ensure that Kobane is supported and IS defeated.
Victory to the Kurdish fighters – destroy the tyranny of ISIS – Free Kobane