“Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people are not mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah (Hadīth and Sīrah), or in the entire Islamic Scriptures, or all along Islamic history. This is the most important fact to understand the political issues today. If any, “Palestine” and “Palestinians” are not only new invention of the 20th century, but the origin of the names is not Islamic or Jewish or other local Middle Eastern source, but a British one, a name taken from the Roman period.
Moreover, if the name “Palestine” has any linguistic relation to the Roman name “Palaestina” that meant to erase the Jewish name, Eretz-Yisrael, the Land of Israel, after it was conquered, there is nothing whatsoever concerning the name “Palestinians” as a nation, politically, socially, or etymologically.
To add to this scientific truth and reality, Jerusalem is also not mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah (Hadīth and Sīrah). After it was conquered by the Muslims in 638, it was called by the Muslim invaders “The City of the Temple House” (Madinat Bayt al-Maqdis). Bayt al-Maqdis is translated in Hebrew, the Jewish Beit Ha-Miqdash.
To end the religious-historical-political debate, this territory is called in the Qur’an “The Land of the Children of Israel” (Ard Banī-Isra’īl); “The Blessed Land” of the Children of Israel (al-Ard al-Mubārakah); “The Holy Land” of the Children of Israel (al-Ard al-Muqadasah). No “Palestine” or “Palestinians”, but the Children of Israel.
From Islamic perspective, Allah has assigned the Holy Land to the Children of Israel until the day of Judgement (Sûrat al-Mā’idah, 5:21). “we made the people who were deemed weak to inherit the eastern lands and the western ones which we had blessed; and the good word of your Lord was fulfilled in the Children of Israel” (Sûrat al-A’rāf, 7:137). “And we said unto the Children of Israel: dwell in the land of promise; but when the promise of the Hereafter cometh, we shall bring you as a crowd gathered out of various nations” (Sûrat Banī Isrā’īl, 17:104). “We made the Children of Israel the inheritors of the Land (Sûrat al-Shû’arā’, 26:59).
By that, the religious argumentation is over for good. There is no “Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people, but the Land of Israel alone. As for the historical side, it is also short and clear: the territory called “Palestine” is a new political invention of the beginning of the 20th century; and the name “Palestinians” is the name of a people beginning to identify themselves from the second half of the 20th century.
“Palestine” had no special geographic entity or political role whatsoever in the history of the region, and the “Palestinians” had no specific sociopolitical or cultural identity, but only after the creation of the State of Israel. “Palestine” has never been a territorial-cultural unit in history, let alone a political one, with its people as one recognized entity, struggling for independence among other political entities in the region.
There is nothing at all, in the entire Islamic literature or poetry, archaeological or scientific, from the 7th century to the 20th century that mention whatsoever “Palestine” and “Palestinians”. Indeed, this is a new creation of the 20th century. Moreover, had the British called the territory not “Palestine” but “Jupiter”, would we be hearing today of a Jupiterian people fighting to liberate their Jupiterian territory?
To set the scientific undoubted truth: this has nothing to do with the question whether there is a “Palestinian” people today. Contrary to the “Palestinians”, who refute and deny any connection of the Jews to their land, the “Land of Israel,” it has to be said: today there is a Palestinian people, a new and invented one, but still it exists. But, it is a new creation of the 20th century, and “Palestinianism” as a national identity, is the creation of the middle of the 20th century.
So far for “Palestine” as a territory and “Palestinians” as a people. From here we can debate the relevant issues honestly and correctly, without the bias of false propaganda. King David captured Jerusalem and made it a political and religious center for the Jews. His son Solomon bureaucratized the Jewish state and inaugurated the First Temple. Since the dynasty of David and Solomon, and after the destruction of the Second Jewish House by the Romans in year 70, this territory, the Land of Israel, was conquered and ruled by many empires in history, and still, except of the Crusaders’ “kingdom of Jerusalem,” there has never been an independent political entity with its unique nation living and residing in the territory of the Land of Israel.
To make it even clearer: since the Islamic occupation of the Land of Israel in 634 and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, there was never an Arab or Islamic independent rule or political regime in this territory. It was ruled independently in the first Jewish Kingdom, the Second Jewish Kingdom, and the State of Israel. This is a historical fact no one can deny scientifically.
Bernard Lewis, perhaps the best Islamic and Middle East researcher, has made a comprehensive review of the issue, in which we can discern the following aspects. The word Palestine comes from Philistine, originally denoting the southern coastal region. In Hebrew that area was known as Pleshet, a Hebrew word. In the New English Bible, the Latin name Palaestina is replaced by Philistia in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, the word Palestine does not occur at all.
The Babylonian conquest of the Land of Israel, and the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE, culminated in destruction of the First Temple. The Roman conquest of the Land of Israel, and the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 CE, culminated in destruction of the Second Temple. At first, the Romans called the country “Provincia Judaea”. But after crushing the Bar-Kokhba rebellion in the year 135, the Romans changed the name to “Provincia Syria Palaestina”, part of its policy of divide-and-rule, with the intention of uprooting any memory of Jewish existence. In about 400 CE, Palestine was split into two provinces known as “Palaestina Prima” and “Palaestina Secunda”. Later, in 425 CE, “Palaestina Tertia” was added. The new Roman name for Jerusalem was “Aelia Capitolina”. The Jews continued to consider it as the Land of Israel and “The Promised Land”.
After the Arabs had conquered the country, Palaestina Prima became Jund Filastin, the military district of Filastin (the Arabic adaptation of the Roman name), administered from Ramla; Palaestina Secunda including Western Galilee, became Jund al-Urdun (Jordan military district), was administered from Tiberias. The Arab division of the country, like the Roman, was not vertical between east and west, but horizontal, with Filastin in the south and Urdun in the north.
During the Islamic Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, the country was treated merely as part of Syria (bilad al-Sham). For the Crusaders, the area was called “The Holy Land” or the “Kingdom of Jerusalem”. The end of Crusader rule in Jerusalem came in 1187, when Saladin (Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi) drove them out. After the Islamic re-conquest of the country, the term Filastin did not come back into use. The parts of the country were named after major cities (Jerusalem, Gaza, Nablus, and Nazareth). In various places, the area was sometimes called al-Quds Sahel, Jerusalem coast.
During the Ottoman Empire the Land of Israel was divided into three districts as administrative units (Sanjaks): Gaza, Jerusalem, and Nablus, with their provincial capital in Damascus. The country was known as “Southern Syria” (Suriyah al-Janubiyah). More specifically, the area from Safed to Jerusalem was part of the Vilayet (province) of Beirut. Indeed, Ottoman rule further emphasized the absence of any socio-cultural or political identity of the country in Arab and Islamic thought. For the population of the area, the territory had never meant more than an administrative sub-district, and had been forgotten even in the limited sense.
What was the social-political reality of the Land of Israel up to the end of the 19th century? Most documents and Christian travelers who visited the country described it as a land in decay. The common adjectives were “desolate” and “neglected”. “So abandoned that even the imagination cannot give it the splendor of life.” “The emptiness of a silent world.” The economy was primitive, the transportation wretched, and the roads dangerous. Jaffa and Haifa were described as “frozen, wretched life”.
According to all the demographic estimates, in the middle of the nineteenth century, there were about 300,000 persons, most of them a mixed multitude of recently arrived migrants. Arab Muslims were the majority of the population carried on a semi-nomadic way of life, and lived in the mountains of the Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. The Christians were concentrated in the holy cities, in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth. The Jews lived mainly in Jerusalem, where they were a majority of the population, as well as in Hebron, and the Galilee cities of Safed and Tiberias .
Until the end of the First World War, Palestine was divided into several districts belonging administratively to Syria, and the inhabitants considered themselves part of Syria, broadly defined. British rule from late 1917, made “Palestine” the name of the formal political entity. Neither Jews nor Arabs consented to the name, however the Jews accepted it formally together with the name the Land of Israel, whereas the Arabs saw themselves as part of Syria and rejected it.
The best account of the period is still Porath’s analysis. The idea of a British mandate for a Jewish National Home stimulated the counter-notion of Palestine’s unity with Syria, with Damascus as its capital. This trend is attested by the recommendation of the King-Crane Commission that, “The unity of Syria be preserved, in accordance with the petition of the great majority of the people of Syria.” King and Crane recommended that Palestine be included in Syria.
From the beginning, the British were engaged on three separate political tracks. This multi-faceted policy bore crucial influence on the future of the Middle East. It began with official correspondence, ten letters written, starting in July 1915, between Sir Henry McMahon, the British High Commissioner in Egypt, and Sherif Hussein of Mecca, whom the British made spokesman of the Arabs.
According to Clayton, the British Director of Military Intelligence, Britain only wanted to keep the friendship and active assistance of the various Arab chieftains. McMahon never had it in mind to set up an Arab state, since the conditions throughout Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Syria did not allow such a scheme to be put into practice. To Storrs, the Oriental Secretary, the Hashemite demands were impossible, and Hussein’s borders were in fact tragi-comic. Moreover, Hussein had received no mandate whatsoever from his Arab counterparts, and the whole issue was premature and out of context.
All British officials maintained that McMahon had specifically excluded all the areas west of the district of Damascus, what they call Palestine. According to Lloyd George, McMahon was very convinced that the exclusion of Palestine was well understood by Sherif Hussein. Colonel Vickery, an expert Arabist, stated that he could affirm most definitely that Hussein’s demands were centered only on Syria. Hussein stated quite emphatically that he did not concern himself with Palestine at all, and he had no desires there. This was Clayton’s impression too.
The second British political track was the secret talks with France and Tsarist Russia, resulting in the Sykes-Picot Agreement, concerning the post-war division of the Middle East under European control and their respective spheres of influence. The region was to be divided into zones of direct and indirect British and French rule, while “Palestine,” the brown zone on the map, was to be internationally administered.
The third British political track was the Balfour Declaration, a letter from the British foreign secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Rothschild, declaring that “His majesty’s government views with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object.”
Much has been written about this commitment and its consequences. Essentially, the arguments are divided into four: a) strategic self-interest. The Jewish entity would be friendly to British interests in the region; b) self-deception: the Jewish people wielded enormous economic and political power that would help usher the US into the First World War, and would stop the Bolshevik revolution in Russia; c) religious idealism: the British Protestants believed it was the duty of Christianity to help the Jews return to Palestine, as a precondition for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; d) admiration of the British leadership for Judaism and Zionism as conformed to the principles of national self-determination and the right of a nation to rule on a nation-state.
The British government was never consistent in its interpretation of the Declaration, and did not speak with one single voice. Yet, all agreed that President Wilson’s wartime Fourteen Points support the principles of self-determination, and the rights of small nations to independence, including the Jews.
Nevertheless, the Declaration was not published hastily or frivolously; nor was it formulated out of ignorance of the facts, in the words of Lord Amery, one of its authors. It is a striking fact that four drafts were drawn up, starting in July 1917, before the Declaration was published. Talks and discussions about the various approaches towards Palestine had already begun in Britain in 1915.
The following aspects are important for understanding the matter:
First, this was a step taken with deliberation, which the British government decided upon cautiously. It was an inseparable part of its policy. The government received the consent of all the major parties in Britain, and the decision was enthusiastically supported by policy-makers, particularly the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and the foreign minister, Lord Balfour, admirers of Zionism and the advancement of Jewish interests in the Land of Israel.
Second, it suited the perceptions of British military men and statesmen who viewed the Jewish National Home in the Land of Israel as a basis for loyal manpower, a barrier to the French expansion southwards, from Syria and Lebanon, and an alternate base for the British presence in Egypt for defending the Suez Canal.
Third, Britain’s Principal Allies, the United States, France, Russia, and Italy, knew the contents of the Declaration before it was made public.
Fourth, inclusion of the Declaration in the Mandate over Palestine that Britain received gave it the force of law and a recognized international status.
Fifth, the Declaration had an attraction for public opinion in Britain and the United States, and it suited the spirit of the times that sympathized with national movements for attaining self-determination.
The goal of the British government was defined by the Foreign Office: to establish a state in its natural and historic boundaries, that constant immigration and economic development would make into a Jewish state. From Britain’s viewpoint, the greatest and oldest historical wrong done to the Jews was coming to an end.
There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
The Arabs argued that the Balfour Declaration was merely a statement of sympathy for the Zionist movement, however, this was not the issue. The historical context was worked out in the Agreement of Understanding and Cooperation which was signed on 3 January 1919 by Amir Faisal – ”the leader of the Arab uprising”, according to the King-Crane Commission, “the representative of the Arab national movement”, according to the British – and by Chaim Weizmann, representing the Zionist movement. The aim was defined as collaboration in developing the Arab state and a Jewish Palestine:
Relations…shall be controlled by the most cordial good will and understanding (art. 1)…the definite boundaries between the Arab state and Palestine shall be determined (art. 2)…carrying into effect the British Government Declaration of the 2nd November 1917 (art. 3)…all necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine in large scale” (art 4).
There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
In his famous exchange of letters of March 3-5, 1919, with Felix Frankfurter, Amir Faisal recognized that there was no distinguishable Palestinian nationhood, and declared “There is room in Syria for both of us.” However, Arab pressures on Amir Faisal showed their success in an interview in the Jewish Chronicle of October 3, 1919. He explained his views about the meaning of his agreement with Weizmann as follows: From the Arab viewpoint, Palestine is merely a district, and the objective was to set up an Arab state including Mesopotamia, Syria, and Palestine. The Arabs could not retreat from this position. The Jews are members of the Mosaic faith and are not a nationality. Moreover, the possible immigration of Jews is up to 1,500 per year. This territory would be a sub-district of the Arab kingdom under his kingship, in which the Jews would enjoy cultural rights. However, Jewish sovereignty is utterly rejected.
There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
With the opening of the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919, Amir Faisal presented a memorandum describing the demands and proposals of the Arab national movement. His proposals were rejected, but subsequent to the tension that developed between Britain and France, the president of the United States, Wilson, proposed sending an investigating commission to examine the attitudes of the inhabitants as to a desirable government. This commission, which in the end had only two members, American representatives, King and Crane, presented its recommendations in August 1919 in a detailed report: Syria (including Lebanon and Palestine) should be considered a single political unit, headed by Amir Faisal, and it should be guided by a mandatory power, but not by France. The commission proposed changing Zionist plan and preventing the turning of Palestine into a Jewish state. However, this report was filed away by the American administration.
There was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
Meanwhile, the mandate principle was accepted in June 1919, in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. In April 1920, at a session of the San-Remo Conference, it was agreed to grant the mandate over Syria and Lebanon to France, and the mandates over Palestine and Iraq to Britain. Included in the mandate was the Balfour Declaration as a document obliging political action. Thereby the Balfour declaration took on international validity.
The mandate was approved by the League of Nations on July 24, 1922, but it entered into effect only a year later, when the Churchill White Paper was included in it. Winston Churchill was the Colonial Secretary. His White Paper stipulated that the National Home provisions of the Mandate were not applicable to Trans-Jordan to the east. Thus, the Churchill White Paper cut away a major part of Palestine (35,468 square miles out of 46,339) in order to set up the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, known at that time as Trans-Jordan.
Still, there was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
In the remaining years until the conclusion of British rule in 1948, the Jewish and Arab inhabitants lived in a country officially named “Palestine” in English, “Filastin” in Arabic, and “Palestina (E.I.)” in Hebrew, the initials E.I. standing for Eretz-Israel.
Therefore, in opposition to the Arab claims that Britain was characterized by blatantly inconsistent policy, by a zig-zag policy, there are ample proofs there was precisely a high degree of consistency in its policy, though there were disputes between policy-making officials in London and policy executing officials on the ground. Moreover, Kedourie is right in his brilliant study of in the Anglo-Arab labyrinth, saying that if there was a fraud, and if manipulations were performed, it was precisely the Arabs, masters at negotiating, who tried to change the circumstances of political history in order to dictate other political frameworks, so as to make reality turn in their favor.
If one closely examines British policy from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 to the MacDonald White Paper in 1939, he will note a drastic shift of British policy towards the Arab positions. Yet, it was not enough for the Arabs demanding an extreme pro-Arab policy, since they demanded all of the territory, out of total rejection to Israel, as they do today. Still, there was no mentioning of a “Palestinian” people.
So much for “Palestine”, but what about the “Palestinians”? Who are the “Palestinians”? The population now called “Palestinians” were a mixture of many peoples roaming and migrating around the region, from and through Syria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Arabia and even Sudan. The Syrian and Egyptian accents of Arabic are very conspicuous among the Arab population.
During the Ottoman period, the Arabs living in the country were known particularly by their religious affiliation. They did not regard themselves – nor were they regarded by others – as “Palestinians”.
All reliable history books clearly prove that the non-Jewish population of “Palestine” grew steadily by many groups from around countries after the Jewish-Zionist flourishing economy and its enterprises. The 11th edition of Encyclopædia Britannica, in volume 20, under the entry “Palestine,” provides a detailed information on the inhabitants, roughly estimates to be 650,000. They are composed of a large number of elements, differing widely in ethnological affinities, language and religion. There are no less than 20 foreign ethnicities other than the small native fellahin and the Jews and Christians living in the cities: Assyrian, Persian, Roman, Arabian, Nawar, Turkic, Armenian, Greek, Italian, Turkoman, Kurd, Bosnian, Circassian, Sudanese, Algerian, and others. It mentions that this complexity makes it no easy task to dwell on the ethnology of “Palestine.”
Therefore, if there were Palestinians and a Palestinian state existed, when was it founded and by whom? What were its borders? What were its capital and major cities? What was its language and its national emblem and currency? Who were its leaders, what were their interactions with other leaders, and where they are written in accords of the history of the region? There is nothing of the sort, and all are imagined and fabricated.
Indeed, the people called “Palestinians” are anything but generic Arabs collected from all over the regional countries. If they really have a genuine ethnic identity entitled for self-determination, why did they never try to become independent until the establishment of the State of Israel, and mainly the 1967 Arab defeat? The “Palestinians” have only one motivation: the destruction of Israel as a state and as a nation.
The first years of the Mandate saw their stubborn struggle to be part of Syria, to have a Syrian identity. The Arabs in the country began to use the name “Palestinian” only on account of the Zionist successes. Their identification as Palestinians came only after the establishment of the State of Israel, and it was purely crystallized after Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.
As late as 1945, the famous Arab historian Philip Hitti appeared before the Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry and vehemently claimed that there were no Palestinian people, and that no “Palestine” had existed in history. This was also the official position of the Palestinian Arab representatives. They stated that “Palestine” was part of Syria in the geographic sense, and its inhabitants belonged to the Syrian branch of the Arab family of peoples.
This was also the position of the Arab representatives who appeared before the UN General Assembly in 1947. They asserted that Palestine was part of Greater Syria, and that the Palestinians did not constitute an entity separate and distinct from the Syrians. The striking phenomenon that emerges here is the reference to the Arab population as Arabs, not Palestinians. All the international decisions spoke of Arabs. The refugees too were referred to in the 1950s and 1960s as Arabs. Even Security Council Resolution 242 spoke only of Arab refugees, not of “Palestinians”.
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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