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John Kerry and Sergey Lavrov to finalize Syria deal

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The war in Arab Syria, still going on for years, is a sort of world war as many powers are killing Muslims there as part of America’s permanent war project following 9/11. The war has become intense with Russian forces joining the party in Damascus. As in the case of Palestine issue, USA maintains it wants to find a credible solution to the crisis and end war in Syria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said he plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Aug. 26 to try to finalize a deal on Syria, after an initial US-Russian understanding reached at meetings in Moscow on July 15 was upended by intensified fighting in Aleppo. “We want to be very measured in our expectations as we go forward … but we believe this meeting is worth having,” State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau told journalists on Aug. 24 about the upcoming Kerry-Lavrov meeting in Geneva. When asked if the scheduling of the meeting was a sign a deal was imminent she said: “We still have issues that need to be resolved. However, we are meeting. We are going to put Secretary Kerry and the foreign minister in a face-to-face meeting to try to resolve some of the issues that remain. I don’t know where we will be after this. … We are committed to this … advancing.”

Kerry, speaking to reporters in Kenya on Aug. 22, said he hoped that meetings between US and Russian technical teams in Geneva this week would make sufficient progress on a plan to expand a cessation of hostilities in Syria nationwide so that a deal could be announced by the end of the month. “Foreign Minister Lavrov and I would meet,” Kerry told reporters in Kenya. “But I wouldn’t be surprised, if they are positive and constructive, that we do get together sooner rather than later. And, therefore, it is possible that something could be agreed … upon before the end of the month. … I wouldn’t express optimism; I would express hope.” “This has to end — this Syrian travesty,” Kerry added. “It has gone on far too long. It has cost too many lives.” A resumption of intra-Syrian political talks “has to be empowered by a legitimate cessation of hostilities and that is what we’re working to achieve,” he added.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Kerry and Lavrov spoke by phone Aug. 24. They “discussed the situation in Syria, including in Aleppo … as well as possibilities for coordinating Russian and US efforts to combat terrorism, building on earlier agreements, including the need to draw a clear line between pro-American Syrian opposition groups and terrorist groups using them as cover, and to whom the cease-fire provisions do not apply,” the ministry said in a press release.

Earlier, diplomatic sources in Geneva had said that a Kerry-Lavrov meeting was tentatively planned, but that whether one materialized depended on whether there was sufficient progress on Aleppo discussions. “It depends on how the talks progress,” a diplomat in Geneva, speaking not for attribution, said on Aug. 24. “Clearly, both sides want a deal … but there is so much mistrust.”

Syrian war grew out of the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring and escalated to armed conflict after President Bashar al-Assad’s government violently repressed protests calling for his removal. The Syrian civil war is an ongoing multi-sided armed conflict in Syria in which international interventions have taken place. The war is now being fought among several factions: the Syrian Government, a loose alliance of Syrian Arab rebel groups, the Syrian Democratic Forces, Salafi jihadist groups (including al-Nusra Front) who often co-operate with the rebels, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The factions receive substantial support from foreign actors, leading many to label the conflict a proxy war waged by both regional and global powers.

Syrian opposition groups formed the Free Syrian Army and seized control of the area surrounding Aleppo and parts of southern Syria. Over time, factions of the Syrian opposition split from their original moderate position to pursue an Islamist vision for Syria as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).In the north, Syrian government forces largely withdrew to fight the FSA, allowing the Kurdish YPG to move in and claim de facto autonomy. In 2015 the YPG joined forces with Arab, Assyrian, and Armenian and Turkmen groups forming the Syrian Democratic Forces.

As of February 2016 the government held 40% of Syria, ISIL held around 20-40%, Arab rebel groups (including al-Nusra Front) 20%, and 15-20% is held by the Syrian Democratic Forces. Both the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Syrian Army have made recent gains against ISIL.

International organizations have accused the Syrian government, ISIL and other opposition forces of severe human rights violations and of multiple massacres. The conflict has caused a considerable displacement of population. On 1 February 2016,a formal start of the UN-mediated Geneva Syria peace talks was announced by the UN but fighting continues unabated.[

Syria became an independent republic in 1946, although democratic rule ended with a coup in March 1949, followed by two more coups the same year. A popular uprising against military rule in 1954 saw the army transfer power to civilians. From 1958 to 1961, a brief union with Egypt replaced Syria’s parliamentary system with a highly centralized presidential regime. The secular Ba’ath Syrian Regional Branch government came to power through a successful coup d’état in 1963. The next several years Syria went through additional coups and changes in leadership. In March 1971, Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite, declared himself President, a position that he held until his death in 2000.

The Assad government opposed the US’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The Bush administration undertook to destabilize the regime by increasing sectarian tensions, showcasing and publicizing Syrian repression of radical Kurdish and Sunni groups and financing political dissidents. Assad also opposed the Qatar-Turkey pipeline in 2009. A classified 2013 report by a joint U.S. army and intelligence group concluded that the overthrow of Assad would have drastic consequences; the opposition supported by the Obama administration was dominated by jihadist elements.

In 2000, Bashar al-Assad took over as President of Syria upon Hafez al-Assads death. He and his wife Asma al-Assad, a Sunni Muslim born and educated in Britain,[110] initially inspired hopes for democratic reforms. A Damascus Spring of social and political debate took place between July 2000 and August 2001. The Damascus Spring largely ended in August 2001 with the arrest and imprisonment of ten leading activists who had called for democratic elections and a campaign of civil disobedience.[112] In the opinion of his critics, Bashar Assad had failed to deliver on promised reforms.]

Syrian President Assad continues to be adamant, refusing to step down, allowing the situation to calm down especially after Russia, on pretext of supporting Assad, also began attacking the Syrians. Meanwhile, in September 2015, an announcement was made about the formation of the New Syrian Army (NSA), which would initially begin its operations by fighting the Islamic State (IS), without any mention about it possibly confronting Bashar al-Assad’s forces. This is despite the fact that the NSA commander, Khazal al-Sarhan, told various media outlets that Assad and IS were but two sides of the same coin, and that his army would fight Assad once IS is defeated.

Russia said Aug. 18 that it would be willing to consider cease-fires that would last 48 hours for Aleppo on a weekly basis, provided there could be security guarantees that would enable aid to reach both government-held western Aleppo as well as rebel-held eastern Aleppo. But follow-up meetings on how to implement the plan only resumed in Geneva on Aug. 23 and have been complicated, the diplomatic source said.

US officials said Russian actions had served to bolster popular support for al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat al-Nusra (recently renamed Jabhat Fatah al-Sham), which played a key role in breaking an attempted Syrian regime besiegement of rebel-held eastern Aleppo. “The recent escalation in airstrikes and ground fighting in Aleppo is of deep concern to the United States,” a US official, speaking not for attribution, said on Aug. 23. “The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, are driving this escalation that is bringing more suffering to an already deplorable humanitarian crisis and complicates efforts to get Syrian parties to the negotiating table. “Russia has pledged to focus its military actions against ISIL (new name given by the CIA to Islamic State) and al-Qaeda in Syria.

The US official said instead of degrading these terrorist organizations, however, Russia’s actions have empowered the Syrian regime — which uses barrel bombs and, reportedly, toxic chemicals, like chlorine, on its own people. These actions threaten to galvanize popular support for extremists like al-Qaeda, which claim to defend the population suffering under the rule of a brutal dictator and his allies.” “By intervening militarily in this civil war, Russia assumed enormous responsibility for Syria’s future,” the US official said. “It is long past time for Russia to take the necessary steps to reduce violence against civilians, guarantee open access for humanitarian agencies and create conditions conducive for a political transition.”

Meanwhile, Turkey launched its most ambitious operation of the Syrian conflict on Wednesday with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying it targeted the double threat from Islamic State extremists and Syrian Kurdish militias. Turkey says the air and ground operation dubbed “Euphrates Shield” will clear jihadists from the Syrian town of Jarabulus, which lies directly opposite the Turkish town of Karkamis.

The operation was launched just days after Ankara appeared to soften its often-confrontational line on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Turkey wants to see removed. Turkey views the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which it has denounced as a terror organisation along with the EU and the USA. The Syrian Kurds “already occupy a large strip of that border but there is this part in the middle that is still held by ISIS.

At the weekend, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim for the first time acknowledged that Assad was one of the “actors” in Syria, saying he may need to remain as part of any transition. Turkey is also working more closely with Iran and Russia, Assad’s last remaining major allies. So far, no world power has objected to the Turkish operation, which began just hours before US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Ankara.

There have also been signs of a less confrontational Turkish foreign policy since Yildirim took over from Ahmet Davutoglu as premier in May. Stopping Kurdish advances in the north was now Ankara’s primary goal in Syria rather than Assad’s removal. “Following the ouster of Ahmet Davutoglu, the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy in the last decade, Ankara has recalibrated its Syria policy.”Blocking PYD Kurdish advances in Syria, previously Ankara’s secondary goal, now trumps Turkey’s erstwhile policy of ousting the Assad regime.”

The Kerry-Lavrov Geneva discussions “will be the big meeting,” Bassam Barabandi, a former Syrian diplomat now with the Syrian opposition High Negotiating Committee, told Al-Monitor on Aug. 23. “Now I think it is very difficult to talk about a cessation of hostilities,” Barabandi said. Rebel gains in Aleppo in recent weeks are “very difficult to use as leverage, because part of them are Nusra, so I don’t see how Kerry can leverage that” in his discussions with the Russians, Barabandi said.

Even as Kerry expressed hope that a US-Russia deal on Syria could be finalized this month, the Pentagon pushed back on reports a deal was imminent. “Contrary to recent claims, we have not finalized plans with Russia on potential coordinated efforts,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told journalists Aug. 22. “Serious issues must first be resolved before we can implement the steps Kerry and Lavrov discussed in Moscow last month…We are not there yet, and the regime and Russian’s recent actions only make it harder to consider any potential coordination,” Cook added.

Whether or not the Kerry-Lavrov talks on Syrian war would put an end to war and other forms of hostilities in the country and whether or not Assad would step aside at least now when thousands of Syrians have lost their valuable lives because of him and Syria is in shatters.

It would take years for Syria to revive its economy and trade even if a deal is struck by the top powers of the world.

Once destabilized by US led terror forces, chances of revival is a difficult talks as we have seen in Afghanistan and Libya.

Pakistan is perhaps destabilized once for all.

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Middle East

Public decency law puts Saudi reforms in perspective

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A newly adopted Saudi law on public decency helps define Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s vague notion of ‘moderate Islam.’

It also lays bare the pitfalls of his social reforms as well as his preference for hyper-nationalism rather than religion as the legitimizing ideology of his rule and his quest for control of every aspect of Saudi life.

In an indication that Prince Mohammed is walking a fine line, Saudi media reported that the government was still weighing how to implement the law almost two months after it was adopted.

“This (law) is an effort to balance the pressure from conservative elements of society that accuse the (government) of allowing things to go ‘out of control’. Effecting social change is an art form — you want to push as fast as possible without provoking a counter reaction. Not easy!” Ali Shihabi, founder of Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based, pro-Saudi think-tank, told Agence France-Presse.

The law comes on the back of a series of reforms in recent years that were designed to facilitate Prince Mohammed’s plans to streamline and diversify the Saudi economy and project the crown prince as a reformer.

The reforms included the lifting of a ban on women’s driving, relaxation of gender segregation, enhancement of women’s professional opportunities, the introduction of modern forms of entertainment and the curbing of the powers of the kingdom’s feared religious police.

Prince Mohammed also vowed to revert the inward-looking, ultra-conservative kingdom to a form of moderate Islam he claimed existed prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Ultimately, Prince Mohammed’s short-lived reformist image was severely tarnished by the kingdom’s devastating war in Yemen;  the brutal killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; the mass arrest of clerics, activists, journalists and academics; his failure to lift the kingdom’s male guardianship system; and the mushrooming number of people fleeing the kingdom, including dissidents as well as women seeking to escape repressive and abusive families.

Sparking ridicule on social media, the new law defines limits of Prince Mohammed’s social reforms and creates one more anchor for his repression of any form of dissent.

The law bans men’s shorts except for on beaches and in sports clubs. It also bans garments with questionable prints that like shorts “offend public tastes.” It forbids the taking of pictures or use of phrases that might offend public decency as well as graffiti that could be interpreted as “harmful.”

The bans packages public decency as representing Saudi “values and principles” in a nod towards Prince Mohammed’s promotion of a hyper-nationalist Saudi identity.

Yet, various of its restrictions are more in line with the kingdom’s long-standing austere interpretation of Islam while others reinforce the crown prince’s repression of anything that does not amount to an endorsement of his rule or policies.

The restrictions on clothing and this month’s closure on opening night of the kingdom’s first-ever alcohol-free ‘Halal’ disco constitute an apparent effort to cater to ultra-conservatives who oppose liberalisation of gender segregation and public religious rituals such as the muted lifting of rules that force businesses to close during prayers times.

The reforms, while significant in and of themselves, stop short of dismantling what politics scholar Brandon Ives terms ‘religious institutionalism’ or the intertwining of religion and state through a “plethora of institutions, policies, and legal codes.”

Religious institutionalism complicates Prince Mohammed’s attempt to replace religious legitimization of his rule with hyper-nationalism because of its success in fusing religion with Saudi culture.

“Religion and culture are now so intertwined in what it means to be Saudi that it is hard to separate the two,” said Eman Alhussein, author of a just published European Council of Foreign Relations report on Saudi hyper-nationalism.

As a result, some nationalists have joined religious conservatives in calling for limitations on what is deemed acceptable entertainment and media content.

Ms. Alhussein noted that some online critics were cautioning that the promotion of hyper-nationalism stripped Saudis of their values in a manner that weakens their loyalty to the regime.

“Nationalism in this increasingly strident form could eventually become a Trojan horse that undermines the state,” Ms. Alhussein warned.

Nationalism’s double edge is enhanced, Ms. Alhussein went on to argue, by the undermining of the buffer function of the kingdom’s traditional religious establishment. “The state will now be more accountable for its credibility, and potentially much more exposed,” she said.

Prince Mohammed’s refusal to tackle religious institutionalism impacts not only his attempts at consolidation of his power but also his effort to project the kingdom as an enlightened 21st century state.

The crown prince, in a bid to alter the kingdom’s image and cut expenditure, has significantly reduced spending on a decades-long, US$100 billion campaign to globally promote anti-Shiite, anti-Iranian strands of ultra-conservative Sunni Islam.

Prince Mohammed has at the same time ordered state-controlled vehicles that once promoted religious ultra-conservativism to preach tolerance, mutual respect and inter-faith dialogue instead.

Mr. Ives’ analysis suggests, however, that the kingdom’s U-turn is unlikely to lead to a clean break with support abroad of ultra-conservatism without the dismantling of religious institutionalism.

He argues that the domestic pressure that persuades states such as Saudi Arabia and Iran to support co-religionist rebel groups beyond their borders is generated not by religious affinity but by religious institutionalism that creates a political role for religious forces.

Mr. Ives’ arguments appear to be borne out by continued Saudi support for Islamist militants in Balochistan, the Pakistani province that borders on Iran, as well as Algeria and Libya and propagation of non-violent expressions of an apolitical, quietist, and loyalist interpretation of Islam in countries like Kazakhstan.

Saudi Arabia’s new public decency law in effect highlights the limitations of Prince Mohammed’s reforms.

In a private conversation last year with the Archbishop of Canterbury during a visit to Britain, Prince Mohammed reportedly put some flesh on the skeleton of his vision of moderate Islam.

When urged by the archbishop to allow non-Muslims to open places of worship in the kingdom, Prince Mohammed responded: “I could never allow that. This is the holy site of Islam, and it should stay as such.”

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Why should China fully support Iran in Persian Gulf tensions?

Payman Yazdani

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According to many international thinkers creating tensions in the Persian Gulf region by the U.S. also aims at containing China and limiting Beijing’s access to energy resources of the region which is driving engine of Chinese economy.

China was one of the oil exporter countries in 70s and 80s, but following its economic growth it has turned into an oil importing country since 1993 and due to continuation of its economic growth now the country is heavily dependent on importing of oil from other countries. Nowadays the country is the second energy consuming and third oil importing country in the world. Despite the Beijing’s efforts to provide its energy security by diversifying its energy sources during the past years, the country is still heavily dependent on energy import.

Thanks to its efforts and hardworking people China left its global economic rivals behind and became the second biggest economy of the world after the United States. It seems that due to its plans and initiatives Beijing is also managing to leave behind the U.S. in near future and become the world’s biggest economy. The White House has kept an eye the China’s development and its plans and initiatives. The U.S. has never been negligent in monitoring China’s achievements and ambitions.

By changing its approaches and positive interaction with rest of the world Since 1970s, China has promoted its global position to the second biggest economy of the world while before it the country was among the third world countries. The U.S.’s efforts to contain China has become more serious since the beginning of the 21st century. Since Donald Trump took office the level of conflicts between China and the U.S. has climbed up from economic and trade level and is entering into political and security level. Now, Increase of Chinese power and global influence is a major challenge for the White House. In the first step president Trump waged wagged a trade and economic war against Beijing and in the next stage Trump is going to restrict China’s influence globally particularly among the U.S. allies.

To contain China, the U.S. has resorted to many strategies and tactics such as destabilizing west borders of China in Afghanistan and Pakistan and trying to spread to central Asia aiming at thwarting Chinese ‘One road-One belt’ initiative that many experts believe that success of this project will let China to determine the word trade orders in the future.   

Trying to intensify territorial disputes between China and its neighbors besides its trade war against Beijing are among another U.S. tactics to contain China.  

Statistics from www.worldstopexports.com website indicates that China imports its needed crude oil from the following countries:

1.    Russia: US$37.9 billion (15.8% of China’s total imported crude)
2.    Saudi Arabia: $29.7 billion (12.4%)
3.    Angola: $24.9 billion (10.4%)
4.    Iraq: $22.4 billion (9.4%)
5.    Oman: $17.3 billion (7.2%)
6.    Brazil: $16.2 billion (6.8%)
7.    Iran: $15 billion (6.3%)
8.    Kuwait: $11.9 billion (5%)
9.    Venezuela: $7 billion (2.9%)
10.    United States: $6.8 billion (2.8%)
11.    United Arab Emirates: $6.7 billion (2.8%)
12.    Congo: $6.4 billion (2.7%)
13.    Colombia: $5 billion (2.1%)
14.    Malaysia: $4.8 billion (2%)
15.    Libya: $4.7 billion (2%)

Crude oil import is driving engine of Chinese economy so any threats to energy security of China will inflict a heavy blow to the country’s economic growth and can help U.S. to win trade war against Beijing and contain it.

Above mentioned statistics show that some 43% of the crude oil that China imports goes from Persian Gulf and 4.6% goes from Libya and Venezuela that the U.S. destructive polices has already created a chaotic situation in two countries.

Many experts believe that the U.S. withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal known as the JCPOA under false pretexts not only aims at pressurizing Iran but also it is a way to pressurize China to compromise in the trade war that Washington has waged against it. Any conflict and tension in the Persian Gulf region which China’s economy is heavily dependent on means a great blow to the country’s economy, therefore many suspicious incidents and tensions created by Washington and its proxies in Persian Gulf region like attacking oil tankers can be interpreted as the White House’s measures to contain China in order to guarantee the U.S. hegemony and influence for the next decades.  

Commenting on possible relation between recent developments in Persian Gulf and its effects on China’s economy, Dr. Osman Faruk Logoglu a senior member of Tukey’s CHP and former diplomat says,” With its provocative actions and sanctions, Washington not only aims to buttress its support for Israel and its Arab allies by punishing Iran but at the same time also intends to deny Chinese access to Iranian oil.  The fear of and rivalry with China is today one of the primary drivers of American foreign policy.  Interruption of the oil flow in the Gulf is one way to directly hurt Chinese interests.  The Trump administration is, therefore, playing with fire in Iran and a potential conflagration with China.”

A senior Iranian analyst Sadeq Maleki also believes, “The rising tensions between the United States and Iran are mainly caused by Tehran’s independence policy and Washington’s intolerance toward this fact. However, such independence is considered as an exceptional opportunity for the Europeans and other states, especially China, that need to supply their energy from Iran and the Persian Gulf region. A big part of Washington’s policy of fomenting tensions against Tehran and making the Persian Gulf region more volatile comes in line with the White House’s plan to contain China. Iran’s resistance to the U.S.’ pressure is in fact shaping an equation, in which the Islamic Republic indirectly contributes to the interests of China and even Europe. So, China and Europe are highly expected to help Iran in this regard. In a long-term strategic perspective, the U.S.’ long distance from the Middle East, the dangers of insecurity in the Persian Gulf region, and the proximity of Europe and China to the region, heighten the need for greater coordination between Iran, China and Europe in countering the U.S.’ aggressive attitudes.”

Zeynep Oktav, an international relation Professor at Istanbul Medeniyet University also sees a close relation between U.S. created tensions in the Persian Gulf and containment of China. She said, “I believe there’s a close relation as Washington wants to dominate the Middle East with its efforts to exclude China from the region. In this context containing Iran is of crucial importance as China buys Iranian crude oil. China currently seems to change its previous policies of balancing Iran and USA. Beijing applies latest sanctions on Iran, however, it opposes any possibility of American military attack on Iran. In my opinion, USA challenges China by threatening Iran in the Middle East, the issue is not about Iran, it’s about China.”
Even some experts who don’t believe in close relation between the ongoing U.S. created tensions in Persian Gulf and containment of China by the U.S. don’t reject the possibility totally and say the relation is indirect not direct.

Prof. Larry Catá Backer of Pennsylvania State University says, “Relation between Persian Gulf tensions and U.S.-China negotiations may reflect post facto efforts to exploit serendipitous perceive opportunity; it is much less likely to represent the execution of some sort of strategic plan.”

Prof. Nader Entessar, a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at the University of South Alabama believes that if there is any relationship between the tensions in the Persian Gulf and containment of China, it is not direct.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Istanbul, the Mayoral Election Rerun: A Turning Point for Democracy?

Zakir Gul, Ph.D.

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Despite state-sponsored and private efforts to influence the outcome of Turkey’s mayoral elections on March 31 either directly or indirectly, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) suffered major losses. Of particular note is the mayoral election in Istanbul where AKP member and former Prime Minister Binali Yildirim lost to Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Ekrem Imamoglu, someone who was not especially popular or well-known. He resembles the last person, who effectively challenged the AKP in general election: Selahattin Demirtas, the charismatic co-leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) who has been jailed since 2016.

The outcome of the mayoral election in Istanbul reflects poorly on the president’s ability to ensure that a member of his own party remains in power in the city where Erdogan himself was elected as mayor in 1994, although with the lowest percentage(25.19%) in Istanbul election history. Since then, Erdogan has not lost even one election—be it for mayor or some other political position—despite widespread claims of corruption involving Erdogan and the AKP.

Imamoglu prevailed in the election against his AKP opponent because he was seen by many diverse people as the antithesis of Erdogan and the AKP. Istanbul voters apparently saw Imamoglu as a champion of their desire for a peaceful country and someone who could stop the ruling party’s pervasive hateful and divisive discourse and policies, its human rights violations, and its embrace of kleptocracy and kakistocracy, at least in Istanbul. Erdogan, of course, was not happy with Imamoglu’s popularity and acted as if he, too, was running against Imamoglu. Erdogan wanted his close companion, Yildirim, to win the mayoral election and resorted his usual strategy of declaring his critics terrorists. Through state-controlled media, Erdogan implied that anyone voted for his candidate, Yildirim, was voting in support of Turkey and that anyone who voted for Yildirim’s opponent, Imamoglu, supported terrorists and were enemies of state. Yildirim’s (and by extension Erdogan’s) campaign slogan was “the survival of Turkey.”The message was that for Turkey to continue to exist, the residents of Istanbul should support the ruling party, the AKP. In other words, if the ruling party is defeated, Turkey will no longer exist. The campaign slogan and the policies of the AKP received consistent support from the leader of the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Devlet Bahceli. The efforts of Erdogan and Bahceli, however, failed miserably. The winner on March 31 was Mr. Imamoglu, leaving Erdogan and Bahceli shocked at the outcome.

The election defeat was not something that Erdogan could swallow, and he made his displeasure known.  The Supreme Election Council (YSK) subsequently ruled that the mayoral election in Istanbul would be repeated on June 23. Erdogan realized that his strategy did not work this time. He also realized the importance of Kurdish voters in Turkey and that these Kurdish citizens would be the ones to determine the winner of the mayoral election in Istanbul.

Armed with these insights, Erdogan changed his campaign strategy to one that was built on gaining the votes of Turkey’s Kurdish citizens. Gone from the playbook was ethnic discrimination and the indiscriminate labeling of opponents of the ruling party as terrorists. The strategy, however, would be an uphill battle. Turkey’s Kurdish citizens have not forgotten the government’s harsh policies in the name of fighting terrorism, such as destroying houses in several Kurdish populated cities in the southeastern region of Turkey. When he developed his new campaign strategy, Erdogan most likely underestimate the power of the Kurdish vote. As the jailed HDP co-leader Demirtas warned, “Those who see Kurds as ‘simpletons who are very easy to deceive’ have always been mistaken, they will continue being mistaken.” He encouraged Kurdish citizens to go to the ballot boxes to say no to fascism and to defend their rights. In other words, Demirtas was implying that the Kurdish population should vote but not to support the AKP, as the AKP is fascist.

Discourse on the issues occurred for the first time. For example, Yildirim used the word Kurdistan during one of his political rallies. Just before the March 31 election, however, Erdogan said, “In my country, there is no region called Kurdistan.” In another example, the leader of the MHP, Bahceli, referred to the leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as Ocalan. Bahceli previously had avoided calling the PKK leader by name, referring to him instead as “the chief of terrorists.”

At the same time, the leader of PKK, Abdullah Ocalan, countered Demirtas’ plea for Kurdish voters to vote in the mayoral election but not for the AKP, making an announcement through state news agency, Anadolu Agency(AA) in which he called on Turkey’s most influential pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, to remain neutral and not support either candidate in the Istanbul election rerun on June 23. Meanwhile, Osman Ocalan, the PKK leader’s brother, appeared on the state-run television network TRT Kurdi for an interview in which he supported his brother’s message and criticized the CHP and its candidate.

The outcome of the election on June 23 most likely will be the same as it was on March 31. The Kurds, whose houses and neighborhoods have been destroyed by the security forces in the name of counterterrorism policies have not forgotten what happened at the hands of the ruling AKP. They also have not forgotten the Kobani incidents, where Kurds were left to die in front of ISIS. Further, some righteous citizens who have observed the victimization of hundreds of thousands of individuals and families, regardless of their ethnicity or color, by government decrees, will also not support Erdogan’s candidate for mayor of Istanbul. They will choose the opposition candidate because they long for an end to the Erdogan regime’s constitutional and human rights violations (Human Rights Watch, 2019; UN Report, 2018) in response to Kurds who dare to disagree with the ruling party.Istanbul’s Kurdish voters will not forget Erdogan’s disdain for the Kurds. The Kurds know that Kurds,too, are human. They will not forget Erdogan’s overly political and pragmatist approach to human beings. Yesterday’s terrorist is today’s human, or vice versa, depending on the vote the ruling party needs.

If the Erdogan-supported candidate is again defeated, it is highly likely that the Istanbul mayoral election rerun will be a turning point for Turkish democracy—a turning back to Turkish democracy.

*Yusuf Gunay, Security Expert & Analyst, Cleveland, Ohio, US

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