The horrible pictures of the atrocious ritual beheadings of ICS, the Islamic Caliphate State, on the Internet, have shown an ugly face of Western leaders, avoiding and denying what is crystal clear, as if these heinous acts are not Islamic, and continuing their march of folly as if Islam is a religion of peace and compassion; as if ICS and Qaeda are in fact not Islamic; and as if these and other Islamic terrorist organization hijacked Islam, in order to smear it and de-legitimized its presence in the West.
However, these denials are not only a mental blindness processes of run-away leaders, but also represent Western demise and submission to Islamic encroachment.
Let’s think. Do beheadings not represent the tenets of Islam, or perhaps beheadings are the most typical element characterizing Islam? Here is the short Islamic history record: The ritual beheading has a long precedent in Islamic theology and politics, as the cultural favorite form of execution. The practice of slitting the throats of the opponents meant to reassure rulers; to terrorize foes; to secure alliances; and to impress the masses of the power imposed by the ruler. Above all, it has been a cultural-religious-ideological trait.
To smite the neck was not only the order of the Qur’an, and the interpretation of the Islamic exegetes. This is also the interpretation the great Islamic theologians and historians, like al-Tabari and al-Zamakhshari. The most influential modern exegete who interprets and explains these passages of the Qur’an is Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi. He argues that under no circumstances should the Muslims start taking captives, but only after the enemy has been completely crushed. It is the task of the Islamic government to decide if it is necessary to kill prisoners, and he cites many historical examples of Muhammad ordering execution of prisoners.
Yusuf Ali, the acclaimed translator of the Qur’an interprets beheading as utilitarian: the neck is among the only areas not protected by armor, and mutilating an opponent’s hands prevents him from again wielding his sword or spear. In the famous battles of early Islam, Muhammad ordered to cut-off the heads of the enemy leaders and to put them on swords.
In the famous battles of early Islam, Muhammad ordered to cut-off the heads of the enemy leaders, and to put them on swords. Ibn Sa’d featured how the Muslims have dealt with Muhammad’s enemies: they cut off Muhammad’s enemy head and they cast his head before Muhammad, and he praised Allah on him being slain.
The well-known slaughter during Muhammad’s period was the beheadings of the Jewish Bani-Quraythah tribe after the battle of al-Khandaq. The Hadīth of Sahīh Muslim and Sahīh Bukhārī and the Sīrah of Ibn Ishaq clearly reveal that Muhammad ordered the execution by decapitation of 700 to 900 men of Bani Quraythah tribe at Medina for allegedly plotting against him. The men were lined up on huge dug up trenches and were brought out five or six at a time and beheaded. The women and children were taken as reward of booty to the Muslims. They were Islamized and traded off as Slaves.
In 680, the head of Hussein bin Ali was cut-off, put on a silver platter, and sent to Damascus. With him, the heads of all of Hussein’s 71 companions including a one-year-old baby boy were also chopped off.
During the Muslim occupation of Syria in 634, 4000 Christians were massacred; in Mesopotamia between 635 and 642, all Monasteries were destroyed and Monks were slain. In Egypt the Muslim conquerors slaughtered large groups of Christians, including women and children. Carthage was demolished and its people slain.
The Abbasids while taking control of the Islamic empire beheaded and massacred the Umayyads, their own brothers of religion, to the last person and baby.
From the 11th century, Muslim massacred large groups in India, quoting the Qur’an’s order to have slain the idolaters. In the year 1193, a Muslim general order to slaughter 50,000 Buddhists, declaring them as idolaters who had no right to live. In the Gujarati Sultanate of Western India, Sayyid Muhammad Jawnpuri (d. 1505) asserted that he was the Mahdi, and after accused of takfīr, he was beheaded with his followers.
Yusuf b. Tashfin (d. 1106) conquered Western Sahara and central Spain, and after the battle of Zallaqa in 1086, he had 24,000 corpses of the defeated Castilians beheaded, piled up and sent to all the major cities of North Africa and Spain as an example of Christian impotence. This became the rule where Christians were beheaded after any lost battle.
The Ottoman Empire was the decapitation state par excellence. Upon the Ottoman victory over Christian Serbs at the battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Muslim army beheaded the Serbian king and thousands of Christian prisoners. At the battle of Varna in 1444, the Ottomans beheaded King Ladislaus of Hungary. Upon the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans sent the head of the dead Byzantine emperor on tour to major cities in the sultan’s domains. In 1456, the sultan allowed the grand mufti of the empire to personally decapitate King Stephen of Bosnia and his sons, even though they had surrendered and, seven decades later, the sultan ordered 2,000 Hungarian prisoners beheaded.
In the early nineteenth century, even the British were victim to the Ottoman scimitar. An 1807 British expedition to Egypt resulted in “a few hundred spiked British heads left rotting in the sun outside Rosetta. In 1842, the Afghans massacred 2000 British soldiers in Kabul, including their wives and children, by slitting their throats and hanging their heads on the walls of the city.
In Sudan, in 1880, Muhammad Ahmad declared himself Mahdi and led Jihad against the Ottoman Empire, by beheading his opponents, Christian and Muslim alike. The British governor, General Gordon, and his garrison had all been beheaded by the Mahdi. In Somalia, the rebel Mullah, had a large collection of Italian and British heads.
In recent history, beheadings in the name of Islam have become a show in front of world spectators on Arabic satellite stations and the internet.
In Afghanistan, in the 1980’s, 3000 Soviet soldiers were massacred and their heads cut-off by the Mujahideen. In 1986, the head of William Buckley, the CIA’s Beirut station chief was cut-off. The Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl’s decapitation in February 2002, catalyzed this cultural practice. The beheading of Nicholas Berg, Eugene Armstrong, Jack Hensley, and others from Korea, Bulgaria, Britain, Japan, including many Muslim Arabs and Kurds in Iraq, Algeria, Pakistan, Indonesia, Egypt, and in Chechnya. The Dutch beheading of Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch filmmaker, in Amsterdam in November 2004; the Egyptian Coptic family in New Jersey in January 2005; the slaughter of Rafsanjani in Paris.
Beheading has particular prominence in Saudi Arabia. In 2003 alone, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia beheaded more than fifty people. Over the past two decades, the Saudis have decapitated at least 1,100 for alleged crimes. In Iran the average of the yearly beheadings is 25. That is what we know about.
To the ignorant Western public opinion, Islamists sell a twisted and false reality, as if “beheadings are not mentioned in the Qur’an at all” (Imam Muhammad Adham al-Sheikh, head of the mosque in Falls Church, Virginia); “there is absolutely no religious imperative for this” (Asma Afsaruddin, an associate professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame); “beheadings do not represent the tenets of Islam” (Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) as well as the American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee (ADC)).
Unfortunately, Western news media, academics and intelligentsia’s denial, out of political correctness, or their bias, or out of ignorance, has twisted the reality of Islamic history and propagated such lies. It is ordered literally in the Qur’an as a religious duty:
I shall fill the hearts of the infidels with terror. So smite them on their necks and every joint, and smite off all of their fingertips (Sûrat al-Anfāl, 8: 12).
When you clash with the unbelievers, smite their necks until you overpower them, and then bind the prisoners tightly… (Sûrat Muhammad, 47: 4).
To smite the neck is not only the order of the Qur’an and the interpretation of the Islamic exegetes, but they even put stress on the legitimate reasons to do so to the enemies of Islam, whether they are infidels, people of the book, or apostate Muslims. This is also the interpretation the great Islamic theologians and historians, like al-Tabari and al-Zamakhshari. The most influential modern exegete who interprets and explains these passages of the Qur’an is Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi, who argued that under no circumstances should the Muslims start taking the enemy soldiers as captives, but only after the enemy has been completely crushed. It is the task of the Islamic government to decide if it is necessary to kill prisoners, and he cites many historical examples of Muhammad ordering execution of prisoners.
The siege and occupation of Constantinople (1453) is well known in its bloody savagery history by Ottoman Muslims. The Ottomans, Seljuk Turks, a tribe from Central Asia who appeared in the 11th century. The first blockade occurred between 1390 and 1402, which was failed. Then came the double siege of Constantinople, in 1411 and 1422, which were unsuccessful. But these failures strengthened the Ottomans’ will to occupy the city, as the model for the destruction of Christianity, with bloody results.
The occupation of Constantinople (İstanbul’un Fethi), the capital of the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire on 29 May 1453, witnessed the great massacre of Christians. It marked the end of the Roman Empire, which lasted for 1,400 years. The city became Istanbul, the new Capital of the Muslim Ottoman Empire, by Sultan Mehmed II.
After the occupation, Mehmet II allowed his troops to plunder the city for three days and spoils of war, like women and possession. The Ottomans made a great slaughter of Christians through the city. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed, and 30,000 civilians were enslaved. The sea was full with huge piles of the Christians bodies floating around. Eyewitnesses described the horrors of massacres and rapes, without any resistance. They were intent on pillage and roamed through the town killing, raping, taking captives, and using all sorts of beheadings and decapitating. Rape was the most common. The frantic brutes stormed into the young girls and women, tore them, raped them at all sorts, and made them submit to the most terrible outrages. Tender children were brutally snatched from their mothers’ breasts and crushed to the stones. Temples, holy icons and books were desecrated, pillaged and set on fire. The Hagia Sophia was converted into a mosque.
The massacres in Greece and the Balkans. From 1453 with the fall of Constantinople until the revolution in 1821 Greece was under the cruel occupation of the Ottoman Turks who control the entire Middle East and the Balkans, to the gates of Vienna. Their rule was cruel, fanatic and barbaric, in which collective punishment of beheadings, rapes and kidnapping was on daily basis. Military attacks were part of the system, like the attack on the inhabitants of Chios, in April 1822, resulted in the deaths of twenty thousand civilians, and the forced deportation into slavery of almost all the surviving seventy thousand local inhabitants.
For almost three hundred years, beginning from the late 14th century, the Ottoman Empire used the Devshirme system (collection). Christian boys and girls between 7 and 18 but mainly between 7 and 10, from the Balkans, were kidnapped and forcefully converted to Islam as slaves to serve the Ottoman government, mainly the military: the cavalry (Kapıkulu Süvari, the Cavalry of the Porte) and infantry (Yeni Çeri, the New Corp, transliterated as Janissary). The girls were taken as concubines and slaves.
The Devshirme was a ‘forcible removal’ of children of the Christian subjects from their ethnic, religious and cultural environment. It was cruel penalization imposed on the Balkan peoples since their ancestors resisted the Ottoman invasion. It was a periodic conscription of kidnapped tribute boys and girls from their families and communities to be molded into Ottoman praetorians owing their total allegiance and literally their life to the Sultans. From Islamic perspective, “The conquered are slaves of the conquerors, to whom their goods, their women, and their children belong as lawful possession”.
The Armenian Genocide (Medz Yeghern, “Great Crime”). The word “genocide” is the combination of the Greek prefix geno- (tribe or race) and caedere (to kill in Latin). It is defined as “a systematic organized and premeditated extermination of a people and a nation.” The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, in 1948, defined genocide as acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including by the means of killing members of the group.
The Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire against its religious-Christian minority was the first modern mass murder in large scale. It was started on April 24, 1915 and ended with the estimate death toll of almost 1.5 million victims.
For the objective of executing the genocide, Special Forces (Teşkilat-i Mahsusa) were organized by the Turkish government. Like other mass-massacres during Islamic history, and followed by the ICS (Islamic Caliphate State) massacres and ethnic cleansing in Iraq and Syria, the Armenian Genocide has been an organized policy and it was legitimized by state laws.
The preamble to the genocide was the Hamidian Massacre. On 1 October 1895, 2,000 Armenians massacred in Istanbul, and very soon it engulfed the rest of the Armenian-populated provinces, with 100,000 and 300,000 victims. It was followed by Adana Massacre of April 1909, ended with a total of 30,000 victims.
Deportations. On 29 May 1915, the Central Committee of the Young Turks passed the Temporary Law of Deportation, and the mass slaughter of the Armenians ensued, and their property was confiscated. The systematic mass murder of the Armenians was “authorized and organized by the government,” in the face of the world. It was clear that the deportation order was genocidal. Theodore Roosevelt would later characterize it as “the greatest crime of the war.” World media reported it almost on a daily basis, and yet nobody did anything to stop it.
Death marches and systematic starvation. The Armenians were marched out to the Syrian town of Deir al-Zour. Hundreds of thousands of Armenian deportees were forced to march to the Syrian Desert without food and drink, condemned to death.
Concentration camps. A network of 25 concentration camps situated in the region of Turkey’s borders with Iraq and Syria, was set up by the ottoman Government, as to dispose of the Armenians who had survived the deportations and massacres. They also used Mass burnings, drowning, poison and gas slaughtering, and Typhoid.
Like ICS today, the Turks decapitated the heads of many Armenians, mainly their political and intellectual elites and displayed them of central public places. They served as a model to the systematic policy of extermination.
Confiscation of property. Following Abandoned Properties Law, the Ottoman parliament passed the “Temporary Law of Expropriation and Confiscation”, on 13 September 1915 that all property, including land, livestock, and homes belonging to Armenians was to be confiscated by the authorities.
The Greek genocide was the systematic massacre of two million Christian Greeks, instigated by the Ottoman Empire, during the First World War and its aftermath (1914–22). This included massacres and extermination; forced deportations and death marches; and ethnic cleansing from their historic homeland in Anatolia. By the end of the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war, most of the Greeks of Asia Minor had either fled to Greece or had been exterminated. The remaining were transferred into Greece under the terms of the “1923 population exchange between Greece and Turkey.” The Ottoman government was accused of crimes against humanity, and the International Association of Genocide Scholars passed a resolution in 2007 recognizing the Ottoman Empire massacre against Christian minorities as genocide.
The genocide of Buddhists and Hindus. The Brutal Islamic Jihadi campaigns against the infidels have reached its peak concerning the genocide of Buddhists and Hindus. Though every country the Muslim Jihadi invaders conquered has a separate history of blood bath, plundering, rapes, and slavery, however, Buddhists and Hindus perhaps have taken the lion’s share. From the 8th to 18th century, the number of the butchered Buddhists and Hindus is between 80 and 90, these figures exceeds all the massacres carried out all over the world put together. The number of Hindu and Buddhist slaves and raped women kept as sex slaves is almost the same.
Just imagine, the two perhaps most horrible states concerning the treatment of women, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where Buddhist before the Islamic occupation. Just imagine the horrors the Muslim invaders brought to the peoples: plundering, torturing, crucifying the males, while shouting the frantic cry, “Allahu Akbar,” and meanwhile raping the wives and daughters, to begin to understand how that is these countries has become Muslim.
Starting in 712, Muslim jihadi raiders, headed by Muhammad Bin Qasim, entered the port city of Dubal, near todays Karachi, plundered palaces and temples, killed vast number of men and carried off their women and children to slavery, after mass rape and torture. Hajjaj Bin Yousef, the governor of Iraq, wrote to him, quoting Surat Muhammad, 47:4: when you encounter the infidels, strike off their heads. This command of Allah must be obeyed and followed. You should not be fond of mercy. Able-bodied men are to be killed and their women and children are to be enslaved. This order was obeyed on the attack of the city of Brahminabad, when massacring over 10,000 men and enslaving their women and children, after mass-rape. The same process with huge butchering occurred in Afghanistan by Mahmud al-Ghazni in Afghanistan, starting in year 1000, and was the tide of plundering, butchering, mass-rape and slavery endorsed and executed over 800 years on the vast lands of Asia.
Perhaps the worst of all Muslim invaders was Timorlane. His invasion of Hindustan, Tuzk-i-Taimuri, records:
“In a short space of time all the people in the fort were put to the sword, and in the course of one hour the heads of 10,000 infidels were cut off. The sword of Islam was washed in the blood of the infidels. The Muslims set fire to the houses and reduced them to ashes, and they razed the buildings and the fort to the ground. All infidel Hindus were slain, their women and children and their property and goods became the spoil of the victors. One hundred thousand infidels, impious idolaters, were on that day slain. Maulana Nasiruddin Umar, a counselor and man of learning, who, in all his life, had never killed a sparrow, now, in execution of my order, slew with his sword fifteen idolatrous Hindus, who were his captives.”
The fate of the Hindu women captured alive by Muslims was worse than death. Even as their fathers, husbands and children lay killed they had to dance and sing before Muslims and after mass rape they would then be given in slavery to the Muslims.
One can conclude with the harsh situation of contemporary Christians in the Middle East. Among the so many anomalies of Obama Administration, like the refusal to label “Islamic” and “terrorism,” and to continue labelling Islam as a religion of peace, the most vicious is his refusal to call the persecution and annihilation of Christians in the Middle East as genocide. What is happening to religious minorities in the Middle East is not only prejudice and persecution, but systematic extermination.
One has to recall that the Middle East is the embodiment of Arab Islamic total imperialism and colonialism. The European, Soviet and American imperialism were here and gone. The Arab-Islamic imperialism has occupied the Middle East and perpetrated systematic policy of Arabization and Islamization in the entire region, by exterminating its genuine peoples.
Today the Christians have become an extinct species in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities have been driven from their ancestral homes; have been slaughtered, butchered, crucified and beheaded; and have been raped and desecrated by the Muslims. However, this is also true to slaughtering of Muslims who do not behave according to the strict order of the Shari’ah, and they are labelled as infidels too. Iraqi Christians were about two million, now tens of thousands left. In Syria, out of 1.2 million, perhaps three hundred thousand left, living in deep intimidation and harsh conditions. Only in Egypt, due to the military regime of al-Sisi, the Christians’ condition is better, after they have passed through persecution, women kidnapping, and conversion to Islam during the short-lived period of Mursy Muslim Brotherhood’s regime.
These events occurred all along Islamic bloody history do tell us why Muslims today who strictly follow Islam want to carry out the same things of the Islamic past. It leaves no doubt that the events on our screens today, the beheadings, the barbarism, the bombs are a byproduct of an Islamic era that is being revived by the fanatic Muslims all over the world.
The Turkish Gambit
The only certainty in war is its intrinsic uncertainty, something Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan could soon chance upon. One only has to look back on America’s topsy-turvy fortunes in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Syria for confirmation.
The Turkish invasion of northeastern Syria has as its defined objective a buffer zone between the Kurds in Turkey and in Syria. Mr. Erdogan hopes, to populate it with some of the 3 million plus Syrian refugees in Turkey, many of these in limbo in border camps. The refugees are Arab; the Kurds are not.
Kurds speak a language different from Arabic but akin to Persian. After the First World War, when the victors parceled up the Arab areas of the Ottoman Empire, Syria came to be controlled by the French, Iraq by the British, and the Kurdish area was divided into parts in Turkey, Syria and Iraq, not forgetting the borderlands in Iran — a brutal division by a colonial scalpel severing communities, friends and families. About the latter, I have some experience, having lived through the bloody partition of India into two, and now three countries that cost a million lives.
How Mr. Erdogan will persuade the Arab Syrian refugees to live in an enclave, surrounded by hostile Kurds, some ethnically cleansed from the very same place, remains an open question. Will the Turkish army occupy this zone permanently? For, we can imagine what the Kurds will do if the Turkish forces leave.
There is another aspect of modern conflict that has made conquest no longer such a desirable proposition — the guerrilla fighter. Lightly armed and a master of asymmetric warfare, he destabilizes.
Modern weapons provide small bands of men the capacity and capability to down helicopters, cripple tanks, lay IEDs, place car bombs in cities and generally disrupt any orderly functioning of a state, tying down large forces at huge expense with little chance of long term stability. If the US has failed repeatedly in its efforts to bend countries to its will, one has to wonder if Erdogan has thought this one through.
The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 is another case in point. Forever synonymous with the infamous butchery at Sabra and Shatila by the Phalange militia facilitated by Israeli forces, it is easy to forget a major and important Israeli goal: access to the waters of the Litani River which implied a zone of occupation for the area south of it up to the Israeli border.
Southern Lebanon is predominantly Shia and at the time of the Israeli invasion they were a placid group who were dominated by Christians and Sunni, even Palestinians ejected from Israel but now armed and finding refuge in Lebanon. It was when the Israelis looked like they were going to stay that the Shia awoke. It took a while but soon their guerrillas were harassing Israeli troops and drawing blood. The game was no longer worth the candle and Israel, licking its wounds, began to withdraw ending up eventually behind their own border.
A colossal footnote is the resurgent Shia confidence, the buildup into Hezbollah and new political power. The Hezbollah prepared well for another Israeli invasion to settle old scores and teach them a lesson. So they were ready, and shocked the Israelis in 2006. Now they are feared by Israeli troops.
To return to the present, it is not entirely clear as to what transpired in the telephone call between Erdogan and Trump. Various sources confirm Trump has bluffed Erdogan in the past. It is not unlikely then for Trump to have said this time, “We’re leaving. If you go in, you will have to police the area. Don’t ask us to help you.” Is that subject to misinterpretation? It certainly is a reminder of the inadvertent green light to Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait when Bush Senior was in office.
For the time being Erdogan is holding fast and Trump has signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Turkish officials and institutions. Three Turkish ministers and the Defense and Energy ministries are included. Trump has also demanded an immediate ceasefire. On the economic front, he has raised tariffs on steel back to 50 percent as it used to be before last May. Trade negotiations on a $100 billion trade deal with Turkey have also been halted forthwith. The order also includes the holding of property of those sanctioned, as well as barring entry to the U.S.
Meanwhile, the misery begins all over again as thousands flee the invasion area carrying what they can. Where are they headed? Anywhere where artillery shells do not rain down and the sound of airplanes does not mean bombs.
Such are the exigencies of war and often its surprising consequences.
Author’s Note: This piece appeared originally on Counterpunch.org
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
On October 7, 2019, the U.S. President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of American troops from northeast Syria, where the contingent alongside Kurdish militias controlled the vast territories. Trump clarified that the decision is connected with the intention of Turkey to attack the Kurdish units, posing a threat to Ankara.
It’s incredible that the Turkish military operation against Kurds – indeed the territorial integrity of Syria has resulted in the escape of the U.S., Great Britain, and France. These states essentially are key destabilizing components of the Syrian crisis.
Could this factor favourably influence the situation in the country? For instance, after the end of the Iraqi war in 2011 when the bulk of the American troops left the country, the positive developments took place in the lives of all Iraqis. According to World Economics organization, after the end of the conflict, Iraq’s GDP grew by 14% in 2012, while during the U.S. hostilities the average GDP growth was about 5,8%.
Syria’s GDP growth should also be predicted. Not right away the withdrawal of U.S., French, British, and other forces, but a little bit later after the end of the Turkish operation that is not a phenomenon. The Turkish-Kurdish conflict has been going on since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire when Kurds started to promote the ideas of self-identity and independence. Apart from numerous human losses, the Turks accomplished nothing. It is unlikely that Ankara would achieve much in Peace Spring operation. The Kurds realize the gravity of the situation and choose to form an alliance with the Syrian government that has undermined the ongoing Turkish offensive.
Under these circumstances, Erdogan could only hope for the creation of a narrow buffer zone on the Syrian-Turkish border. The withdrawal of the Turkish forces from the region is just a matter of time. However, we can safely say that the Turkish expansion unwittingly accelerated the peace settlement of the Syrian crisis, as the vital destabilizing forces left the country. Besides, the transfer of the oil-rich north-eastern regions under the control of Bashar Assad will also contribute to the early resolution of the conflict.
It remains a matter of conjecture what the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Russia agreed on during the high-level talks. Let’s hope that not only the Syrians, but also key Gulf states are tired of instability and tension in the region, and it’s a high time to strive for a political solution to the Syrian problem.
Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around
Turkey, like much of the Middle East, is discovering that what goes around comes around.
Not only because President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appears to have miscalculated the fallout of what may prove to be a foolhardy intervention in Syria and neglected alternative options that could have strengthened Turkey’s position without sparking the ire of much of the international community.
But also because what could prove to be a strategic error is rooted in a policy of decades of denial of Kurdish identity and suppression of Kurdish cultural and political rights that was more likely than not to fuel conflict rather than encourage societal cohesion.
The policy midwifed the birth in the 1970s to militant groups like the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which only dropped its demand for Kurdish independence in recent years.
The group that has waged a low intensity insurgency that has cost tens of thousands of lives has been declared a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Turkish refusal to acknowledge the rights of the Kurds, who are believed to account for up to 20 percent of the country’s population traces its roots to the carving of modern Turkey out of the ruins of the Ottoman empire by its visionary founder, Mustafa Kemal, widely known as Ataturk, Father of the Turks.
It is entrenched in Mr. Kemal’s declaration in a speech in 1923 to celebrate Turkish independence of “how happy is the one who calls himself a Turk,” an effort to forge a national identity for country that was an ethnic mosaic.
The phrase was incorporated half a century later in Turkey’s student oath and ultimately removed from it in 2013 at a time of peace talks between Turkey and the PKK by then prime minister, now president Erdogan.
It took the influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s and early 1990s as well as the 1991 declaration by the United States, Britain and France of a no-fly zone in northern Iraq that enabled the emergence of an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region to spark debate in Turkey about the Kurdish question and prompt the government to refer to Kurds as Kurds rather than mountain Turks.
Ironically, Turkey’s enduring refusal to acknowledge Kurdish rights and its long neglect of development of the pre-dominantly Kurdish southeast of the country fuelled demands for greater rights rather than majority support for Kurdish secession largely despite the emergence of the PKK
Most Turkish Kurds, who could rise to the highest offices in the land s long as they identified as Turks rather than Kurds, resembled Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, whose options were more limited even if they endorsed the notion of a Jewish state.
Nonetheless, both minorities favoured an independent state for their brethren on the other side of the border but did not want to surrender the opportunities that either Turkey or Israel offered them.
The existence for close to three decades of a Kurdish regional government in northern Iraq and a 2017 referendum in which an overwhelming majority voted for Iraqi Kurdish independence, bitterly rejected and ultimately nullified by Iraqi, Turkish and Iranian opposition, did little to fundamentally change Turkish Kurdish attitudes.
If the referendum briefly soured Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish relations, it failed to undermine the basic understanding underlying a relationship that could have guided Turkey’s approach towards the Kurds in Syria even if dealing with Iraqi Kurds may have been easier because, unlike Turkish Kurds, they had not engaged in political violence against Turkey.
The notion that there was no alternative to the Turkish intervention in Syria is further countered by the fact that Turkish PKK negotiations that started in 2012 led a year later to a ceasefire and a boosting of efforts to secure a peaceful resolution.
The talks prompted imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan to publish a letter endorsing the ceasefire, the disarmament and withdrawal from Turkey of PKK fighters, and a call for an end to the insurgency. Mr. Ocalan predicted that 2013 would be the year in which the Turkish Kurdish issues would be resolved peacefully.
The PKK’s military leader, Cemil Bayik, told the BBC three years later that “we don’t want to separate from Turkey and set up a state. We want to live within the borders of Turkey on our own land freely.”
The talks broke down in 2015 against the backdrop of the Syrian war and the rise as a US ally of the United States in the fight against the Islamic State of the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).
Bitterly opposed to the US-YPG alliance, Turkey demanded that the PKK halt its resumption of attacks on Turkish targets and disarm prior to further negotiations.
Turkey responded to the breakdown and resumption of violence with a brutal crackdown in the southeast of the country and on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Nonetheless, in a statement issued from prison earlier this year that envisioned an understanding between Turkey and Syrian Kurdish forces believed to be aligned with the PKK, Mr. Ocalan declared that “we believe, with regard to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the problems in Syria should be resolved within the framework of the unity of Syria, based on constitutional guarantees and local democratic perspectives. In this regard, it should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns.”
Turkey’s emergence as one of Iraqi Kurdistan’s foremost investors and trading partners in exchange for Iraqi Kurdish acquiescence in Turkish countering the PKK’s presence in the region could have provided inspiration for a US-sponsored safe zone in northern Syria that Washington and Ankara had contemplated.
The Turkish-Iraqi Kurdish understanding enabled Turkey to allow an armed Iraqi Kurdish force to transit Turkish territory in 2014 to help prevent the Islamic State from conquering the Syrian city of Kobani.
A safe zone would have helped “realign the relationship between Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and its Syrian offshoot… The safe-zone arrangements… envision(ed) drawing down the YPG presence along the border—a good starting point for reining in the PKK, improving U.S. ties with Ankara, and avoiding a potentially destructive Turkish intervention in Syria,” Turkey scholar Sonar Cagaptay suggested in August.
The opportunity that could have created the beginnings of a sustainable solution that would have benefitted Turkey as well as the Kurds fell by the wayside with Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria.
In many ways, Mr. Erdogan’s decision to opt for a military solution fits the mould of a critical mass of world leaders who look at the world through a civilizational prism and often view national borders in relative terms.
Russian leader Vladimir Putin pointed the way with his 2008 intervention in Georgia and the annexation in 2014 of Crimea as well as Russia’s stirring of pro-Russian insurgencies in two regions of Ukraine.
Mr. Erdogan appears to believe that if Mr. Putin can pull it off, so can he.
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Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good...
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So, mother, like Johannesburg, you cut me in deep, imaginative and raw ways. A cut from you was a project....
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