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Is Syrian Crisis Will Lead to Third Word War?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]yria has been passing through the throes of civil war. Due to this crisis, out of approximately 23 million Syrian population, about 500.000 people have been killed. The Syrian refugee crisis has been conceived more critical in the post-World War-II era. About 7 million people have been displaced internally, and about 3 million people had left the country,

Turkey being the largest refugee-hosting country. Currently, Syria has lost infrastructure, economy, along with exponential increasing poverty sans basic necessities. Although, the Syrian crisis has started at the local level, but now it has taken the shape of a global problem.

Currently, the Syrian War has been divided into major two groups, one led by the US and the other one by Russia. Most of the countries from the Middle East Asia have joined the US group, and some of the countries from the same region have joined the Russia side to oppose and support the Syrian regime. On 6th April 2017, the US attacked Syria’s Shayrat Airbase by 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles. Russia has warned the US with grave consequences if these attacks will continue. Many electronic and print media reports anticipating that it could turn into a World War-III. The main focus of this piece is to see, what shape it could take and how it can be sorted out?  

What is a Syrian Crisis?

Though the Syrian minorities had played a pivotal role in the liberation of it from the millennium subjugation, but these minorities (Sunni Islam -68.4%; Shia Islam -3.2%; Alawism -11.3%; Druze -3.2%; Nusayrism -1.3%; Alevism -0.7%; Yazidism -0.2%; Christianity -11.2%; Others -0.5%) have felt betrayed upon taking over the Assad regime by the Baath Party under the leadership of Hafez al-Assad (1970-2000). Assad’s long reign of authoritarianism and totalitarianism since the 1970s, characterized by the lack of political freedoms, high unemployment, limited opportunities for upward mobility, corruption, nepotism, and exponential growing poverty which had fuelled the public disgruntlement. The Sunni people (74%), have been ruled by an Assad family belongs to a minority -the Alawites (11.3%), a part of the Shia sect. Moreover, Arab Spring and successful boisterous demonstration and protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and in other neighboring countries have encouraged the Syrian people to rise against the authoritarianism regime. The peaceful demonstrations against the incumbent regime of Bashar al-Assad (2000-till date), has been started in March 2011 as the Syrians were encouraged and inspired by the successful protest marches against the governments of Egypt, Tunisia, and several other Arab states.

Syrian War –A Humanitarian Crisis

The unrest has been started on 15 March 2011. The boisterous demonstrations and protests have organized by the rebel groups, demanding the oust of the President Bashar al-Assad along with the relinquishment of political power by the Ba’ath Party, which has been ruling Syria since 1971.

To pacify the protests and demonstrations by the rebels, the Syrian Army was deployed in April 2011. In reciprocation, the Syrian Army has opened the fires on civilian protesters. As the suppressions ensued, some of the Syrian Army officers had formed the Free Syrian Army (FSA). It was formed with the objectives of protecting the Syrian people from the Assad regime’s suppression and repression and overthrowing the totalitarianism government. The law and order situation had deteriorated into a complete armed rebellion. Now, the Syrian crisis has been involving two groups. On the one hand, the incumbent government led by Bashar al –Assad has been supported by the Russia, Iran, China and Hezbollah (Shi’a Islamist militant group and political party based in Lebanon ) and wheras on the contrary, liberal groups like Free Syrian Army, Southern Front Forces, Army of Islam, and Kurdish Forces fighing against the Assad regime supported by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and some Gulf countries. The terrorist groups like Al-Nusrah Front (A Syrian Al-Qaeda branch) and ISIS have also been fighting against the Syrian regime

After the World War-II, the Syrian crisis has been known as the biggest humanitarian crisis. More than half of the population has been one or the other way has been affected by the crisis. As per the reports of the UNHRC, the war crimes have been committed against the Syrian people. The violations of human rights and crimes against the Syrian people included such as murders, atrocities, rapes and enforced disappearances. The civilian peoples have been denied the access to the food, water, and health services along with sexual violence throughout the war by the rebels as well as the authoritarian regime. There are an approximately 1/3 of the Syrian population have been displaced internally. About 4.1 million people had fled to neighbouring countries, including Jordan and Turkey, to escape the violence since 2011.

Is it a Beginning of the Third World War?

Now the major question arises, does the Syrian Civil War become a launching platform for the World War-III? The US has been standing with the Syrian rebel groups with a programme of “train and equip.” The countries such as the UK, France, and Saudi Arabia are standing with the US side. On the other hand, Russia and Iran have been supporting the Syrian government with strategic support. China is also helping Syria and supporting countries by providing diplomatic support.

A chemical attack by the Assad government in Idlib province in which 80 people have been killed, invited the US missile attack on 6 April 2017. Even the US President gave future actions indication by saying that “something should happen” to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad being responsible for the heinous attack. It shows the paradigmatic shift in the Trumps’ Syrian policy. It was further substantiated by the statement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, wherein he said, Assad would have “no role” in the Syrian government and “steps are underway” to oust him.

The supporter countries of the Assad regime took a serious note of the US missile attack on 7 April, 2017. Russia has issued a stern warning to the US by saying that further such actions would seriously challenge the global security. Moreover, the Russian FM Sergey Lavrov hosted his Syrian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow to review the prevalent situation. Lavrov said, “We call on the US and its allies to respect Syria’s sovereignty and refrain from actions similar to what happened on April 7, and which have serious ramifications not only for regional but also global security.”

Some strategic thinkers and senior journalists are of the opinion that involvement of the major powers in the Syrian conflict could turn into to a third world war. Turkey was of the firm opinion that the world would entrap into a global conflict, had America and Russia not restricted themselves in the Syrian conflict. The Daily Mail quoted Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus, wherein he said, “If this proxy war continues, after this, let me be clear, America and Russia will come to the point of the war.” Many strategic thinkers, commentators, politician etc. have expressed concerns over the engagements of major powers in Syrian crisis and consequent evolving situation.

At last, it is concluded that if this crisis lingers on, then it would have serious consequence not only the regional security but at the global level as well. It has also been affecting seriously the Syrian people, who have been obligated to lead a miserable life. They have been living a life of refugees, a life sans education, health, and many other basic needs. It is, therefore, recommended that the major powers should try to ferret out the solution to the crisis through the dialogues and deliberations. Use of the military option (missile attack/s is/are not the solution. Double standard policies by the major powers related to political regime/counter-terrors to be avoided. Like a war, if Syrian crisis turned into, would have grave consequences for regional security. Thus, the neighboring countries are exhorted to restrain the geopolitical entanglement in the crisis. A regional approach to the crisis would be an option. Moreover, the Syrian government should make some adjustable changes in the political system to avoid the unwanted interferences on the part of the major powers. A solution to the Syrian crisis could avert the probability of turning it into a major war!!  

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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Middle East

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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