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Another Geographic Detail is Drawn by the Sponsors of the Syrian Tragedy

Another Geographic Detail is Drawn by the Sponsors of the Syrian Tragedy

Thursday, 17 October, 2019 - 10:45

One sure truth about the Syrian tragedy that is ongoing since 2011; or perhaps since the fall of President Amin al-Hafez in 1966, has been that the only static is change.

‘Greater Syria’, not only the current Syrian entity of 1943, has known diversity since the beginning of documented history. In fact, just as diversity became part of its identity, the latter has been shaped by foreign invasions, occupations and annexations to Eastern and Western empires of all identities, creeds and sizes.

Very few areas in the ‘Old World’ witnessed continuous movements, and successions of kingdoms, empires and states as did ‘The Fertile Crescent’ that extends from the Zagros Mountains to the east and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, with its peak in northern Syria between the Hakkari and Taurus Mountains.

Nationalism is relatively a new political phenomenon; indeed, there is a wide disagreement on its definition, more so, when being mixed up with terms like ‘homeland’ or ‘civilization’, or when linked to religions and languages. Even in the West, different words mean different things depending on how they are related to certain cases and various political phenomena.

In such confusion, we encounter developments like the ones taking place inside northern Syria’s borders with Turkey east of the Euphrates; whereby views diverge regardless of ethical and humanitarian yardsticks.

There is nothing new in saying that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holds ideological and nationalistic beliefs that push him to reclaiming what were around 100 years ago, ‘territories of the Ottoman Caliphate’. The fact of the matter is that Erdogan does not regard himself an ‘heir’ to Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)’s secular Turkey, as much as a custodian of the religious ‘legitimacy’ and Sunni ‘authority’ in Turkey’s Ottoman history. This mixture between hankering to the old imperial Ottoman dream and the supreme authority to the world’s Sunnis – who make up between 75 to 80 percent of all Muslims – gives him the right, as far as he is concerned, to intervene wherever he finds in his interest to do so.

On the other hand, while the vast majority of the Kurds are Sunni Muslims, so would supposedly be in the same camp with Ankara, ‘nationalist’ affinities suggest otherwise; thus, making the virtual ally an actual foe. Now, it is worth reiterating that one of the very few points the ‘historic enemies’ the Turks and the Iranians, see eye to eye is preventing any attempt to establish a large and independent Kurdish state; as such a state would threaten the current ethnically-diverse entities of Turkey and Iran. In truth, wise Kurds have always understood this reality, and have behaved realistically, patiently and cautiously, until such time that circumstances change.

The Arabs too, have always had an ambiguous position towards Kurdish nationalism and the dream of a Kurdish ‘homeland’. However, the Arab countries where Kurds live either were diverse empires, such as the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid Caliphates, or became part of non-Arab diverse empires, such as the Ottoman and Safavid states.

This meant that there was no reason for friction or existential animosity, perhaps until the mid- 20th century, when a certain strain of Arab nationalism was reluctant to feel the sensitivities of non-Arab minorities.

Today, in addition to Turkish attempts to take control of the Kurdish-majority Syrian border areas, there is a blatant Iranian hegemony over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, as well as parts of Palestine and Yemen. With meaningless ‘consumerist’ jargon aside, Iran would be quite happy with Turkey’s operations against Kurdish pockets in north and northeast Syria; because, a- it has its own grand plan, and b- because it has its own calculations of the costs, and where its interests lie.

This dual talent Tehran possesses, does not exist in the Arab mind, where there are no grand plans, and no agreed upon calculations. Furthermore, although, the current operations are taking place inside what still officially is an Arab country, there is no strategic Arab approach, which would appraise their nature, scope, dimensions and potential results, far from parochial and spiteful considerations.

Some of the Syrian Kurds were wrong when, soon after the Syrian Uprising, separated their own priorities from those of the rest of the Syrian Opposition. This of course happened before others undermined and destroyed the Uprising from within. Some hotheaded and suspect Kurdish elements began to talk about and work for the Kurdish ‘State of Rojava’ in northern Syria, publishing its maps and changing the names of its cities and towns. They also embarked on joining the bulk of ‘Rojava’ with the Afrin enclave in the northwest taking over in the process the Arab-inhabited northern areas of Raqqa province. All this was being done, while patriotic and rational Kurdish elements were still convinced that the aim was an independent, sovereign, non-factional non-sectarian Syria, where all Syrians would coexist peacefully and equally under the law.

In the meantime, the leaderships of both Turkey and Iran moved, through the nine years of Syria’s uprising, from sponsoring the two rival camps to mutual agreement and liaison with Russia.

Iran, which initially accused Turkey of aiding and abetting the ‘Takfiri extremists’ ended up as its partner in the ‘Astana Talks Initiative’; and Turkey, which had initially threatened that ‘it would not stand idly’ while the Assad regime resorted to suppression, forgot about Iran’s sectarian militias and Moscow’s role, and the plight of the millions of refugees, and struck a deal with those who displaced them!

Finally, behind the scene, there is the US.

Washington, for years, has had Tehran and its ‘henchman’ the Assad regime on its list of ‘sponsors of terrorism’; yet, under the pretext of fighting ISIS, it turned a blind eye to Iran’s expansion throughout the region during Barack Obama’s presidency; and now abandoning the ISIS-fighting Kurds, and tacitly accepting that the Assad regime remains and keeps most of its territories under Russian and Iranian protection.

Everybody, great and small, has interests and strategies, while we, the Arabs, only have reactions; which is the most worrying sign for the future.

Despite the fact that our regional neighbors Israel, Iran and Turkey, are suffering from genuine problems, thanks to their unified decision and sufficient internal consensus, they have all been capable of ‘exporting’ their problems outside their borders.

Unfortunately, the situation is different in the Arab world, and the Arab reading of the region’s future is both immature and inadequate.

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