Turkey's most important ally
Had Mehmet from Turkey and Azad from Rojava fought shoulder to shoulder against Daesh, this would have bolstered the peace process in Turkey and shattered the prejudices prevailing against us in Turkish public opinion.
While preparing this contribution to this conference, I couldn’t stop thinking of these words of SDF commander Mazlum Kobane, spoken when he was interviewed earlier this year by journalist Amberin Zaman. Had Mehmet from Turkey and Azad from Rojava fought shoulder to shoulder, many more beautiful things could have happened besides the things that Mazlum Kobane said. Just imagine the potential of a situation in which Turkey could end its fear of the strength and determination of the Kurds and instead embrace the inclusive ideology of the Kurdish movement. Not only Turkey would be in a freer place than it is today, the whole Middle East would be.
Don’t ask me to get into details. I’m just dreaming a little bit. It is after all impossible to define what would have happened in the scenario that Mazlum Kobane sketched. All we know is what happened in real life. All we know is what has happened now that Mehmet from Turkey and Azad from Rojava are not fighting shoulder to shoulder but against each other. It has intensified not only the war in Syria but the war in Iraq as well, it has brought Turkey to the dictatorial, violent situation it is in today, and has cost the lives of hundreds of Mehmets and Azads.
I am supposed to talk about Turkey and its allies’ role in the Middle East crisis, but when it comes to the war in the Middle-Eastern country where Turkey is most visibly present, Syria, Turkey seems to have only one ally left. And that is president Assad. I focus on this not only because Turkey is militarily the most visibly present in Syria, but also because Turkey’s policy for the whole Middle-East is eventually shaped by it’s fear of Kurds. I don’t think that needs to be debated.
Aren’t the US and/or Russia Turkey’s allies? The US of course officially is, but we know that Erdogan expects nothing from the States now that the Americans refuse to distance themselves properly from the YPG and YPJ and as long as the trial in which his brother in crime Reza Zarrab is involved. Russia seems to be an increasingly important ally, but I seriously doubt how strong the alliance is. Russia went even further than the Americans ever did in it’s relationship with the YPG: just a few days ago, the Russian army and the YPG held a joined press conference. Erdogan’s news papers make some mention of it, but Erdogan himself hasn’t yet. He still expects something from Russia, which is: keeping the PYD, the political party leading the way in north Syria, away from the negotiating table about Syria’s future. But how pragmatic the ‘friendship’ between Turkey and Erdogan really is, remains to be seen. I know that the speaker before me, Cengiz Candar, believes that it is more than pragmatism, and that revived Turkish Eurasianism is at the root of it. It would be interesting to debate this issue further during this conference.
Back to Erogan’s most important ally, president Assad. I think it is safe to say that he will win the Syrian civil war. Erdogan has realized this too of course, and since he is not that different from his Syrian counterpart, he knows that Assad will not settle for a victory in which he only controls 75% of the country’s territory. He knows, in other words, that at some point, Assad will want to bring north-Syria under his control as well.
Assad’s brutality is the only thing Erdogan has left to count on. Of course, the US will not stand up for the self-governed areas in north-Syria when Assad attacks them, but the question is whether Assad’s army can beat the YPG, YPJ on its own. It is not very likely that Russia will help. So Turkey will help Assad. It will disguise this assistance of course, because it wouldn’t look good to directly come to Assad’s aid after having fumed against him so often in the last couple of years.
And that’s where Turkey’s currently most important proxy comes in. That’s not the Free Syrian Army or any faction of it, because by the time Assad attacks the self-governed areas in north-Syria, Assad and Russia will have dealt with what’s left of that. I am talking about the Sultan Murad Brigade, under which a few Turkmen militias (Sultan Murad, Sultan Suleiman Shah, Sultan Osman) cooperate. Erdogan has been saying again and again that he will move the Turkish army into Afrin as soon as the YPG and YPJ attack Turkey. And the Sultan Murad Brigade is loyal and obedient, so they will have no problem whatsoever with carrying out a false flag operation. It’s perfect for Turkey that the YPG and YPJ have no intention whatsoever to attack Turkey, because with a false flag attack, Erdogan can carefully plan his move into Afrin, from which it will only be a small step to remove some parts of the border wall to enable the tanks to enter into Kobani and Cizire cantons. He will order it just when Assad is marching towards the self-governed areas from the south.
Part of Aleppo. (photo: YPG press service)
Well, “marching”. Bombing is more Assad’s style. It struck me, when I was preparing this speech, how similar the tactics of Assad and Erdogan are. We have all seen the photos and videos of the destoyed cities in Syria. They look a *lot* like the destroyed parts of Sur, Cizre, Sirnak, Silopi. Destroying towns and cities is not just a military tactic, it is also a political one. Cities, towns and neighbourhoods that don’t exist anymore, also don’t have a population that can rise up against oppression. And then, when you are in full power, like Erdogan and Assad are, you can ‘re-construct’ and ‘re-populate’ these areas as you please. I always get slightly nauseas when I see the pictures of how the AKP imagines the ‘re-constructed’ areas that they destroyed. Wide lanes, instead of the narrow streets and alleys where the locals knew every ally and where the army’s armoured vehicles couldn’t enter, let alone move.
Part of Sirnak (photo: ANF)
Then the re-population will start. Believe me, I wish Syrian refugees proper houses and a bright future, but what I don’t wish for them is to be used by Erdogan in his demographic policies. Demographic policies, that’s a kind way to say ethnic cleansing.
Maybe Assad and Erdogan have already been talking behind the scenes, who knows, recently in a Sochi hotel, about the re-population of the cities and towns in the now self-governed areas of northern-Syria. The Turkmen sure need houses, especially when you promise more of them from the Middle-East and the Turkic world an opportunity to settle there. Decades ago, Assad’s father brought more Arabs to the region, and now the Turkmen will be used against the people’s aspirations for self rule.
Little bit over-confident
This is a pitch black scenario. Maybe some of you know that between June 2016 and June this year, I have been embedded with the armed forces that fight under the ideology of Abdullah Öcalan. I have travelled with the PKK in Qandil, in Kirkuk, Maxmur and Shengal, and then with the YPG and YPJ in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria, then all the way down to the front line at Ain Issa, north of Raqqa. Currently, I am busy writing a book about my findings and experiences.
One of the central things that I learned, is how confident these armed forces are. Many fighters with whom I talked, were for example convinced that they could have defended Kobani successfully without the Americans bombing Daesh positions. I think that is a little bit over-confident, but I do believe that the US started to support the YPG and YPJ because they were fighting so incredibly well and realized that these were the forces on the ground they needed, not because the Kurds asked the Americans for help out of desperation. How strong are they against the combined forces of Assad and Turkey on their own? Yes, the PKK has been holding out against Turkey for almost four decades now, but that’s a guerrilla war, not a ground war as can be expected in the north of Syria.
The population is trained to defend itself, true. But how can you defend yourself against bombs with a Kalashnikov? How can the YPG and YPJ defend the population against Turkey and its ally Assad, with all their heavy weaponry?
Theatre called politics
And still, it is not as pitch black as it seems. The most important thing I learned in my time with the PKK, YPG and YPJ, is that they have a much broader view on the Middle-East than all analysts, journalists and politicians usually have. At least, I laughed a little bit when I looked at my own work through their eyes, especially my work when I was based as a journalist in Diyarbakir, between 2012 and 2015. Paying attention to every detail in the theatre called politics, analysing every quote from Tayyip Erdogan, Selahattin Demirtas and Cemil Bayik, giving importance to every wave on the Marmara Sea between Gemlik and Imrali.
For them, the view transcends this everyday madness. They are fighting against bigger evils than the men who currently pull the strings and try to make alliances and order around their proxies. They fight against the patriarchy, against capitalism, against the concept of the nation-state and sectarianism, against, in short, everything that makes Erdogan and its allies, and the rest of the world, for that matter, tick. They will defend themselves with their self-confidence against the Assad-Erdogan alliance, but they know that if their defence isn’t strong enough, they won’t have lost.
They know the system is doomed to collapse, or, is collapsing already. They know that there is only one alliance that matters in the end, which is the only force that will eventually survive all temporary alliances, the force that will continue to live and thrive long after Erdogan, Assad and their allies and proxies and their nation-states have crumbled and died. Erdogan’s allies may currently be militarily and politically strong, but they lack any alliance with the only ally that will last: the people.