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The Palestinians Fabrications Concerning Jerusalem: What the Islamic Scriptures and Islamic History Instruct Us (C)

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From the above list contains the most reliable Islamic classical exegetes clearly sums up the issue and refute all political propaganda raised by Muslim and Palestinian politicians. These exegetes acknowledge that it was well-known Muhammad had night dreams and visions, but as about the Jewish Temple Mount there are no evidence and proofs relating to his political and religious activities.

Muhammad did not know anything about Jerusalem, let alone visiting it, and moreover building a mosque there. It is of note that during most of Muhammad’s prophetic career, Jerusalem was under Persian control (614-628). Byzantines returned triumphantly to Jerusalem only in 629.

Indeed, all Palestinian-Islamic assertions are fabrications based on myths with the aim of gaining political targets. The formula is crystal clear: as long as Jerusalem is under Islamic control, it is neglected and comes under oblivion. However, when Jews and/or Christians take control of the city, Muslim raise its artificial fabricated sanctity.

Furthermore, there is also the geographical terminology. The name al-Aqşā means “the most distant,” “the furthest,” cannot be tied or related to Jerusalem or anywhere in the Land of Israel for that matter, because it contradicts the Qur’an’s statement which calls the Land of Israel “the nearest place,” termed Adna al-Ard.

The phenomenon of denying Jewish history in Jerusalem and the existence of its two Temples is particularly perplexing since this denial contradicts the Qur’an itself. The Qur’an specifically mentions the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem and states that the Children of Israel enjoyed two periods of political autonomy in the Land of Israel, and that during those periods they built the First and Second Temples which were destroyed because of their sins.

And we gave Moses the Scripture, and made it a guide for the Children of Israel. Take none for protector other than me… And we conveyed to the Children of Israel in the Scripture: You will commit evil on earth twice, and you will rise to a great height. When the first of the two promises came true… It was a promise fulfilled. Then we gave you back your turn against them, and supplied you with wealth and children, and made you more numerous… Then, when the second promise comes true, they will make your faces filled with sorrow, and enter the Temple as they entered it the first time, and utterly destroy all that falls into their power.

The problem with these false claims is also that they expose an important Arab-Islamic cultural traits which reveal ethnocentric views and claims. It presumes that everything belongs to Islam and nothing will be shared with others. Jerusalem is only sacred to Islam, and since it isn’t sacred to the Jews, they don’t have any rights to it.

History, Religion, and Politics Refute Any Ties of Islam to Jerusalem

Muhammad and the Sahābah

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount, called al-Aqşā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

How that is nobody knew of it among his friends (Sahābah), and even Muhammad himself did not know about it? He did not mention Jerusalem at all in his sermons and commandments; he did not tell his followers to worship Jerusalem, and above all, he did not send forces to conquer it from the infidels. He did nothing concerning Jerusalem. Is it possible?

The absence of Jerusalem is doubly surprising in light of the fact that in the 90 of 114 Meccan Sūwar the Qur’an frequently refers to stories from the Bible. Muhammad relates to many adventures of the Children of Israel, from Abraham and his sons in the Land of Israel and Egypt; continuing with Moses and the Children of Israel in Sinai, and the conquest of the Land of Israel; and ending with Kings David and Solomon and other Jewish prophets and figures. Kings David and Solomon resided in Jerusalem, the city of the Holy Temple. Nevertheless, Jerusalem is not mentioned, nor the Temple Mount in the Islamic Scriptures.

To comprehend how utterly strange is this phenomenon we must recall that the cities holy to Islam, Mecca and Medina, are described frequently, and these descriptions are accompanied by mention of historical events. Moreover, before Muhammad began his prophecy he engaged in commerce and once visited Damascus. Jerusalem was well known. Commercial caravans to Syria passed near Jerusalem. Still, total silence.

Moreover, one of his biographers, al-Wākidi, that his book, Kitāb al-Maghāzī details very carefully and authentically all of Muhammad’s wars and the places he visited and stayed. How that al-Wākidi does not mention this glorious event of Muhammad in Jerusalem and the mosque he erected there, if it was true? In two occasions the Hadīth mentions a city named Ilia, Madīnat Bayt al-Maqdis, but only in a geographic context and not in a political sense, and certainly not in a religious one concerning Islam.

He who is acquainted with Arab-Islamic political culture exactly knows this scenario is impossible. The admiration to Muhammad among the Muslims is total and absolute. If Jerusalem was important to Muhammad and if he had been there, his generation and later on all the believers would have known it and warship it.

None had happened, because nothing should have happened. The Sīrah (Muhammad’s biography) and the adīth (stories associated with Muhammad or about him as related by his confidants), which are an integral part with the Qur’an to comprise the Sharī’ah, contain extensive descriptions of Muhammad stories, declarations and activities. Still, Jerusalem is not mentioned at all. How could Mecca and Medina be mentioned so many times, while Jerusalem, which Islamic propagators establish as the third holiest city to Islam, is not mentioned?

‘Umar bin al-Khattāb, the Conqueror of Jerusalem

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqşā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

How that is the Land of Israel was conquered by ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb in 634, but the Muslims did not bother to conquer Jerusalem until four years later? That is certainly an indication of the unimportance of Jerusalem as far as Islam is concerned. Had Jerusalem been of any real religious significance for Islam, it certainly would have been conquered as first priority.

Is it possible that ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, one of Muhammad’s closest confidantes, did not know there was a mosque on the Temple Mount that allegedly erected by Muhammad? Moreover, he entered the Temple Mount with a Jewish convert, Ka’ab al-Akhbar, as an instructor. ‘Umar turned to him to find the direction to pray towards Mecca. If there was already a mosque there that Muhammad had ostensibly built, wouldn’t ‘Umar have known about it, and wouldn’t he have prayed there?

Sure, there was no mosque there whatsoever. When Ka’ab, the Jewish convert, took off his shoes [in deference to the holiness of the Jewish shrine], suggested to build a mosque on the place of the Jewish Temple, ‘Umar angrily responded that Ka’ab had never really left his Jewish faith. He insisted that the Muslims are required to pray solely toward the Ka’aba in Mecca, and did not even listen to the idea of building a mosque on the Temple Mount.

In addition to the absence of any real significance of Jerusalem in the eyes of Islam, immediately after it was conquered, the Muslims reached an agreement of surrender with the Christian leadership and thereupon proceeded to leave Jerusalem and ignore it, preserving its Christian character. Had Jerusalem occupied an important religious role in Islam, the Muslims would have not abandoned it to the Christians immediately following its conquest and granted the Christians far-reaching autonomy in it.

These facts bring the Islamic propagation concerning Jerusalem to absurd and ridicule. If the al-Aqşā mosque indeed was located on the Temple Mount, could we imagine that ‘Umar bin al-Khattāb would belittle it and, by so doing, deny the validity of its source in the Qur’an? Obviously not. The fact is that there is no reference in the Qur’an to al-Aqşā or to any particular sanctity of the Temple Mount.

Moreover, After ‘Umar left the Temple Mount and signed a treaty of protection with the Christians, called Dhimma, he decided to establish the Muslim capital in Caesarea. Later on the capital moved to Ramle, the only city the Muslims built in the Land of Israel. Does it sound logical from Islamic perspective that had al-Aqşā been located in Jerusalem built by Muhammad, could ‘Umar or any Muslim blatantly disregard it and erect the capital in other cities? Indeed, ‘Umar did so because there was nothing out there in Jerusalem sacred to Islam.

Jerusalem under the Umayyad Dynasty (al-Khilāfah al-Umawiyyah)

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount called al-Aqşā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

How that is Jerusalem continued to be in oblivion and negligence, and that the Umayyad’s capital was established in Damascus, and that still there was no prayer toward Jerusalem and even no known mosque there?

However, the internal war between Muhammad’s family and the Mecca-oriented group against the Umayyad’s Damascus-oriented Dynasty, brought a change. Due to the circumstances the Umayyads had to choose an alternative to the ājj in Mecca, and Jerusalem was chosen just because of its location.

For that reason, the Umayyad ruler, ‘Abd al-Malik (685-705) built the first mosque ever, only in 691, in Jerusalem, called the Dome of the Rock, Qubt al-Sakhra’, on the Temple Mount. There was no religious decree or orientation there but pure politics. Why the Temple Mount? Because Jerusalem at that time was only a small part of what is known today as ‘the Old City.’ Another reason, the Umayyads wished to act against the Christians, where there was a church on the foundations of the Jewish Temple.

Only in 715 a second mosque was built by Suleiman, al-Walid’s son, called Masjid al-Aqşā. It was built 83 years after Muhammad’s death. From the emergence of Islam until 691 the Muslims built many mosques in all the lands they have conquered but not in Jerusalem. Is it something to consider?

A number of factors contributed to the decision to choose Jerusalem: First, the rebel forces of ‘Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr controlled the ijaz (Arabia) and prevented the Umayyad from taking part in the ājj (pilgrimage to Mecca). Furthermore, the Umayyad Dynasty sought to legitimize their control of Syria: they had competitors in Arabia as well as in Iraq for the control of Mecca. Finally, in the absence of a spiritual center, the Umayyad needed a location like Jerusalem.

The power struggle within Islam itself has brought Jerusalem to the core. The Damascus-based Umayyad Caliphs who controlled Jerusalem wanted to establish an alternative holy site if their rivals blocked access to Mecca. That was important because the ajj to Mecca was one of the Five Pillars of Islam. As a result, they built what became known as the Dome of the Rock shrine and the adjacent mosque. Indeed, all Umayyad’s sources reveal that Jerusalem was chosen for its geographical location and not for any Islamic reason connected to Muhammad.

Ya’qubi, the 9th century historian describes the issue: at that time ‘Abd al-Malik forbade the people of Syria to make a pilgrimage to Mecca because Ibn Zubeir, in Mecca revolted against him and forced the pilgrims the swear allegiance to him. Therefore, he built a dome over the Rock on Bayt al-Maqdis. Indeed, on the place of Jerusalem in Islamic tradition, S. D. Goitein takes issue about the role of the Umayyads in promoting the sanctity of Jerusalem.

It was not easy to change the Muslims’ consciousness concerning Jerusalem and ājj. That is why a new religious-educational orientation was established, called Fadā’il al-Quds literature. The target was clear: to make Jerusalem a place of sanctity for the masses under the Umayyads. However, when reading the material written on Fadā’il al-Quds the conclusion is clear: it does not say anything about Muhammad in Jerusalem and the erection of mosque there during Muhammad’s life. There was only a new invention of Jerusalem as a holy city deserves to serve the ājj ritual.

In this context, and for obvious political reasons, several clerics active during the period of the Umayyad dynasty set this holiness rating for Bayt al-Maqdis. They stated as follows: “prayer in Mecca is like one hundred thousand prayers, prayer in Medina is like one thousand prayers, and prayer in Bayt al-Maqdis is like five hundred prayers.”

According to al-Muqaddasi (985), an historian in Jerusalem (as his name testifies, referring to the Jewish name of Jerusalem), the Dome of the Rock sought to elevate and sanctify Jerusalem, thus serving as a counterweight to the Christian churches that dominated the city, such as the Church of the Sepulcher. That is why there sprung up an entire literature about the “praise of Jerusalem” (Fadā’il al-Quds). Still it was of note that the region’s capital was al-Ramlah and not Jerusalem. Moreover, this sanctity remained for only 60 years. When the Umayyad dynasty fell in 750, Jerusalem also fell into near obscurity for 350 years, until the Crusades.

Jerusalem Under the Abbasid Dynasty (al-Khilāfah al-‘Abāssīyah)

The House of Umayyad fell in 750, and the entire ruling family were slaughtered by the Abbasids. For 350 years, up to the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders, no Islamic entity displayed any interest in the city. The “Praise of Jerusalem” literature, that emerged for political reasons during the Umayyad dynasty and lasted at most 60 years, disappeared, and a new contradictory literature appeared that belittled the importance of Jerusalem.

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount, called al-Aqşā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

How that is a new Islamic literature considered Jerusalem a source of heresy and rejection of Islamic sacred writings? How that is in 1033 the Dome of the Rock, most symbolically, collapsed and no one bothered to restore it as a holy site of worship? In 1173 Benjamin of Tudela visited Jerusalem. He described it as a small city full of Christian groups with two hundred Jews dwelt under the Tower of David. No Muslim community was mentioned.

The Fatimid control of Jerusalem ended when it was captured by the Crusaders in July 1099. The capture was accompanied by a massacre of the Muslim and Jewish inhabitants. Jerusalem became the capital of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was rebuilt, and Muslim mosques on the Jewish Temple Mount were converted for Christian purposes.

At the beginning, even the conquest of Jerusalem by the Crusaders failed to arouse any sense of shock or cultural-religious humiliation around the Islamic world. The Christian Crusaders destroyed mosques and synagogues, and built churches on those sites. Most of all, they pointed to Jerusalem as the pinnacle of their religious campaign. Moreover, the Ayyubid Dynasty destroyed the walls in expectation of ceding the city to the Crusaders as part of a peace treaty.

The Muslims did not refer to the conquest of Jerusalem as a goal. Only a few voices mentioned the city, and only few sources can be cited in the reports of travelers of that period who barely mention Jerusalem in a religious context and certainly not as an important site for tourism. The religious side was much less even mentioned let alone practiced. It was pure politics. Infidels occupying a Muslim land, and from social-economic perspective impoverishment and misery of Jerusalem were at their peak.

However, through time there emerged some different voices, such as that of Ali the son of Tahir al-Sulami, a cleric who resided in Damascus, who preached the need for Jihad against the Crusaders. The 12th century Nur al-Din, the ruler of Aleppo and Mosul pressed hard for a Jihad against the infidels. For that he employed the religious motifs used by the Umayyads such as Fadā’il al-Quds. The Praises of Jerusalem literature had returned, and a new slogan flourished, to be used extensively later on against the State of Israel: “liberating al-Aqsa” from the infidels.

A genuine change in the attitude toward Jerusalem emerged only when Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi was dubbed the “liberator of al-Quds” in 1187, a cornerstone event founded in religious belief. The main motifs defined on the basis of the city’s sanctity deriving from the mosques found on the Temple Mount, and the fact that Jerusalem was the first Qiblah and the third Haram in Islam.

The Kingdom of Jerusalem lasted until 1291, however, Jerusalem itself was recaptured by Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi in 1187. Yet, Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi made no real efforts to make Jerusalem a religious center. No significant religious institutions were built in Jerusalem during his reign, and very soon he called on the Jews to return to their holy city. His success was more political than religious: he invested efforts in the struggle against the infidels, to gain sovereignty over what was called Islamic territory.

Upon termination of the Crusader era, Jerusalem again sank into relative oblivion and negligence. The rise of puritanical trends within Islam also contributed to the neglect of Jerusalem. The anbali exegete, Ibn Taymiyah (1263-1328) is identified with this trend more than anyone else. He was active in abolishing Jerusalem’s elevated status. He strenuously asserted that Jerusalem occupied no important religious role in Islam, and that the city’s prominence derived exclusively from Judaism and Christianity. In his Great Compilation of Letters, he stated that directing prayer toward Bayt al-Maqdis (the Jewish Holy Temple) was nullified, and whoever does so is a heretic, becoming an apostate (Murtad). If he doesn’t retract, he is to be executed. No later scholar could disagree with this rule nor with the traditions did he observe.

In fact, beginning with the 12th century, Islam became increasingly rigid and ceased absorbing new ideas. The gates of innovation (Ijtihād) were closed, and the era of Muhammad and the four Righteous Caliphs became the perfect way of life Muslims must follow and imitate. First and foremost among these was the notion that Jerusalem was not sacred. In any way it has become null and void, even heresy.

Though the short-period change of Jerusalem as being religious in Islamic conceptions was raised during the Umayyad’s rule and the Ayyubi’s, it was solely political, targeted against their enemies than religious feelings. It reappeared in the 20th century in the political struggle against the Jews and the State of Israel. It was not and still is not the mixture between religion and politics, but the political use of religion for political ends.

Jerusalem under the Ottoman Empire (Osmanlī Devletī)

If Jerusalem was so important to Islam religiously; and if Muhammad reached the city and established a mosque on the Temple Mount, called al-Aqşā; and if Jerusalem is indeed the third aram and the first Qiblah; then

How that is the trends revealed during the Abbasid rule became apparent during the reign of the Mamlūks who came from Egypt and secured their control over the Land of Israel and Syria after their victory over the Mongols in 1260? That fact is that Jerusalem once more fell into awe-full neglect and poverty with no economic or political support. Many public buildings constructed during the reign of the Mamlūks fell into disrepair or were closed. Even Safed and Gaza, small cities at that time, were granted status as independent provinces but not Jerusalem.

The rule of Suleiman and the earlier subsequent Ottoman Sultans brought an age of religious peace, were Jew, Christian and Muslim enjoyed the freedom of religion in Jerusalem. However, from Muslim perspective the four hundred years of the Ottoman rule, 1517-1917, Jerusalem remained in its inferior and impoverished status under the regional rule of Damascus (Villayet-province).

Though Suleiman the Magnificent rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, and reinforced public structures, soon after its conquest, these steps were taken merely because Jerusalem serviced the pilgrims on their way to Mecca. Cairo (Fustāt), Damascus (as-Shām), Constantinople (Istanbul), and other metropolitan centers were considered to be of religious significance and places of warship. Jerusalem was not part in this list. Jerusalem was certainly not on the same status as Mecca and Medina.

By the 19th century, Jerusalem had been so neglected by Islamic rulers that several prominent Western writers who visited Jerusalem were moved to write about it. French writer Gustav Flaubert, for example, found “ruins everywhere” during his visit in 1850. In Innocents Abroad, 1869, chapter LIII, Mark Twain described the condition of Jerusalem under Ottoman Muslim rule: “Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Moslem rule more surely than the crescent-flag itself, abound… Jerusalem is mournful, and dreary, and lifeless… In chapter LVI: “Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur … the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross.”

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The Turkish Gambit

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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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

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Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?

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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.

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Turkey and the Kurds: What goes around comes around

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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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