What’s going to happen in Syria?
by M. Husedin
The bomb blast in Cyprus chose itself an interesting date (July 11th). Greek president was in Israel tightening the newly formed Israeli – Greek friendship. The explosion was mostly talked of its effect on the energy supply system of the island. However, what exploded had to be more interesting: 98 containers full with munitions dispatched two and a half years ago from Iran to Syria. It was the same day the American Embassy in Damascus were attacked by ‘protesters’. The whole thing and more seems a bit unusual to be called coincidal incidents.
Syria is a particular country for Eastern Mediterranean. Not because it’s an Arab country. That’s not my opinion. It would be way too narrow look to see Syria as one of the many Arab states. Syria is more than that.
The map does not reflect the demography fully but is good enough
Many will read but pass without paying much attention to Syria’s multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual society. There are Arabs; the Alewite being the ruling elite, the Sunna muslims as the majority and the Christians. Then there are the Druze as a religious minority; Arab speakers but not very much interested in Arab nationalism. And then there are the Kurds.
The Kurds live in northeast and northwest corners of Syria and claim these lands to be a part of Kurdistan (literally KurdLand). There is also the Kurdish population in Damascus and in Haleppo.Kurds in Damascus are mostly ancient settlers of the city and the ones in Haleppo are more recent immigrants. The Kurds have three different faiths they follow: the Sunna Islam (the majority), and two varieties of an ancient Kurdish religion which academics classify under ‘Angels Cult’ name: the Ezidi (or Yezidi) in the northeast tip and the Alevi in the northwest tip. (Alevi Kurds share a different fatih than Alawit Arabs).
Syria under current president’s father’s rule gained a key status in the Middle East politics. Nick named ‘Desert Fox’, Hafez Al Assad was one of the main figures of the Baathist Arap nationalism, but was also known well in positioning his country strategically during the turmoil in the region in seventies and eighties.
One thing Syria managed very well during all the turning points of the recent history; during the fourth quarter of the twentieth century was oppressing its nation. Kurds who lost their identity documents count up to 300’000 today. The regime was not merciless only against the Kurds. Hama massacre in 1982 is still fresh in the memories of many. Arab nationalist movement and most of the Arabs were happy with the Assad ruled Baath regime in Syria and of its politics. It was fighting against Israel and this was good enough. Lebanon, in practice, was under Syrian rule but the Arab world seemed to care little or none. However, the whole perception against Syria changed when the Lebanese prime minister Hariri was killed in a bomb attack.
Syria was not wanted in Lebanon any more and left Lebanon soon after that.
Speaking of Syria, one should mention similar states in the region to better understand the dynamics creating and surrounding the events. One was Tunisia under the rule of Ben Ali and Libya under Gaddafi’s rule and Egypt with Mubarak. Saddam’s Iraq has long gone and is a part of history but before it was gone, especially during the Iran – Iraq war, Saddam’s Iraq qas a leading country for Arab nationalism. All these rulers were iron fisted dictators who named (and name) their states as “republics”. They were in nature secular states but with little or no democracy and with even lesser freedom for the public vote.
Looking at the picture in MENA today (Middle East and North Africa), we see that it’s the Assad regime which remained. (Libya is a complete different dispute only for its oil reserves. It will take time for the western warring countries to agree with each other to decide who gets what after Gaddafi. Once they agree, Gaddafi will not find a cave Saddam could.)
Syria though, is different than all these mentioned similar states. Syria touches Kurdistan; is an occupant force on about 5 % of Kurdistan.
ABOUT THE KURDISH CURSE: THE STATUS QUO IN THE REGION
If a Kurdistan map can be analyzed quickly, it will be seen that Kurdistan itself and the Kurdish people onboard are the one thing Syria shares with Turkey, Iran and Iraq. This has been the curse of Kurdistan from the point of view of the Kurds since these countries’ borders have been drawn by the British and the French. The curse was basically this: All these four countries had their own allies within and outside the region. Even though there was conflict between themselves and between their allies, they also had their agreement on the status quo. The status quo, tied strongly by the global strategy balance, did not allow Kurds to gain rights.
Bu then, things started to change with the turn of the century after the American led invasion of Iraq. I would like to go into a bit of detail on Kurdish politics here to help you to understand the Kurdish sentiments that effects the Kurdish decision making.
Now that the small bit of Kurdistan (about 20%) inside the Iraqi borders enjoys relative independence, this effects the rest of the Kurds strongly. First time during the modern ages Kurds claim their own land under their very own rule. Being Kurd in the other parts of Kurdistan is more or less being prisoned at home and not being allowed to go to the next room. However this time Kurds in one part of Kurdistan live in freedom. When one part gets something, it means that a United and Independent Kurdistan is one step closer. The sentiment among Kurds since the invasion of Iraq is that the curse is broken.
Today though, Kurds in Iraq live in freedom. Kurds in Syria, Turkey and Iraq don’t. If we give the Turkish example; knowing that Kurds in Turkey do not officially exist should tell the story. Or to know that the 24h Kurdish broadcast of the Turkish state owned TRT6 is officially in an ‘unknown’ language. Shortly, Kurdish identity is not recognized in Turkey. In Iran it seems better because at least the identity is recognized. The Kurds are not Persians but Kurds as they are (they are officially Turks in Turkey, not Kurds). In reality though the Shia Persian enmity against Kurds is an ongoing opression.
If one looks from this perspective it is easy to understand why Turkey is so much interested in what goes on in Syria. Turkey has about 50% of Kurdistan (250’000 sqkm) and between 17 and 25 million Kurds. With no rights. Imagine the power vacuum having no right creates in Kurdistan.
Thinking of domino effect theory, it is hard to imagine that if the Kurds in Syria gained similar rights to those in Iraq, the ones in Turkey or Iran would agree on any less. Kurdish agenda has never been to agree to that little though.
In general, Kurds ask for an independent state. They have their own flags, their own antem and their own separate history in the land which they claim to be theirs and name after themselves: Kurdistan (KurdLand).
That’s what makes all affairs in Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran of interest to each other. And of course, when you have interest in any of these countries you find yourself in a position to understand the long unsolved Kurdish issue. And I believe it is the puzzle made in Kurdistan by the British and the French after the I. World War that created the curse mentioned: even if you want more rights for Kurds, say from Washington or Moscow, you would not know how to agree on a deal with other powers who would have their own interests. And so many countries had their own interests in these four countries. And nobody knew how things would evolve once the status quo changed.
After the intervention in Iraq which led to a federation between South Kurdistan and the rest of the Iraq, the status quo changed. The curse finally broke. The fact that it broke once, the Kurds do not believe to it any more. Kurds in any part of Kurdistan only prepare themselves for their turn. They believe that an independent Kurdistan only approaches with the events.
Kurds are very much interested in what’s going on around the countries that have their feet on Kurdistan. Syria is the hot country nowadays.
Bashar Assad, son of the Desert Fox, proved to be an idiot in ruling his country. One should start in ruling his country by reading the history of the land. Bashar made the mistake of imagining a friendship with the ruler of Konstantinopolis (Istanbul). Erdogan, he thought, was a true muslim leader that would have little to do with Europe and rather ally with the East. Turkey under Erdogan’s pragmatist rule proved to be a strong ally of the USA on the other hand.
Israel is having sour relationship with Turkey although it does not seem to be a strategical turning point between the two countries. The trade between the countries has only increased since the ‘one minute’ crisis. A ‘second minute’ crisis seems very unlikely. As a strong gesture on seeking friendship, the Turks pulled their men back from the second Gaza Flotilla.
Israelis however are looking for more allies after the souring relationhip with Turkey. More allies in Eastern Europe and the Black Sea. They have developed new ties with Greece, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia. Warming up with the Greeks is going well, and the Greeks seem to value their newly formed relatinship with Israel.
Israel has also found a very significant amount of natural gas in the Mediterranean Sea between Cyprus and Israel. Some of the reserves are in shared seabottom land. Greek Cyrpus being the little brother of Athens, it would be hard to imagine a different relationship between Nicosia and Jerusalem than that between Athens and Jerusalem.
On July 11, there was a massive explosion in Cyprus. Ammunition captured in 98 containers dispatched to Syria from Iran were seized by Cypriots in respect to the UN embargo on Iran.
That was the day the Greek president visited Jerusalem. The day American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton increased pressure on Bashar Assad himself and said he lost his legitimacy and was running out of time.
There is more to write on this story.