Lebanese are circulating this picture of George Clooney ostensibly after attending too many Lebanese feasts.
Lebanese are circulating this picture of George Clooney ostensibly after attending too many Lebanese feasts.
By Mustafa Gurbuz
For many Kurds, Ankara’s spectator role in Kobane is a systematic policy to weaken PKK to get more leverage in the peace talks.
The radical ISIL group is besieging the Kurdish town of Kobane in Syria, and so far the Turkish government has done little about it. It is the leftist, separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) of southeast Turkey and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the armed wing of the Syrian-Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) — that are mounting the most vigorous Kurdish response to ISIL’s attacks. Turkish Kurds have mounted substantial urban street protests against government inaction. The death toll in Turkey from the crackdown on these Turkish-Kurdish protests is four times the number of victims in the crackdown on the youth protests against Neoliberal construction projects in summer of 2013 at Gezi Park in Istanbul. The ostensible impetus for the Kurdish protests in Turkey, the crisis in Kobane, is just the tip of the iceberg. Mutual frustration over the Peace Process, launched by the AKP government’s official negotiation with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) since March 2013, is the main issue at stake.
The PKK has become increasingly aggressive as its demands have long been postponed, whereas the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government is dissatisfied with its decreasing leverage over the PKK as the PKK/PYD forces gain international legitimacy for their defensive war against ISIS.
For many Kurds, Ankara’s spectator role in Kobane appears to be a systematic policy to weaken PKK in Syria in order to get more leverage in the peace talks. Last week, the AKP government launched airstrikes against the PKK for the first time since the declaration of ceasefire in 2013 as well as declared a “road map” to indicate its commitment to peace negotiations. The road map was penned by Hakan Fidan, the chief of the National Intelligence Agency, receiving consultation from jailed PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan.
Now, all eyes on the PKK commanders in the mountains.
Divisions among Turkey’s Kurds further exacerbate the fragile situation. Last week, the PKK’s longtime rival pro-Islamic Hizbullah announced that the Peace Process has ended because of the recent violence against Huda-Par, a legal political party having ties with Hizbullah, rejecting the claims that they have close relations with ISIS. Both PYD and ISIS find recruits from both rival PKK and Hizbullah constituencies in Turkey and the war spillover may push Turkey’s Southeast into a mayhem if PKK and Hizbullah revive their feud. According to unofficial reports, as many as 600 Kurdish fighters joined ISIS from Southeast Turkey.
As both PKK and Hizbullah allege that mysterious agents provocateurs connive at triggering tension between them, old rumors make a swift comeback with conspiracy theories. In 1990s, both groups suspected that they suffered from false-flag operations by the state intelligence officers. Memories of the dirty war years are still fresh. Although the Kurdish guerrillas committed much violence, it is also true that thousands of Kurds simply disappeared because they were alleged PKK or Hizbullah sympathizers. Assassinations against pro-Kurdish politicians sky-rocketed. Dead bodies and tortured corpses were found in the outskirts of the cities. In a move reminiscent of the dirty-war years, the AKP government recently introduced a new law that grants impunity for National Intelligence Agency (MIT) operations. Such policies of securitization are not going to help in building peace in the region.
The crisis in Kobane could have been an opportunity to strengthen Turkey’s peace talks with PKK. If there is one single key to transforming an intractable ethnic conflict, that is trust. An early attempt for humanitarian corridor supported by Turkish troops could have been a step to increase bilateral trust. Had a sympathetic official discourse about the plight of Kurdish civilians been employed, Turkey’s inaction in Kobane might not have instituted such massive protests. Turkey’s President Erdogan, however, chose to equate ISIS and PKK in his speeches and portrayed the situation as a fight between two terrorist camps. Such language, if persists, would lead an increasing mistrust between pro-Turkish and pro-Kurdish constituencies.
The danger of backsliding is real.
In his theory of revolutions, popularly known as “J-curve” theory, James Davies argues that people’s mood get most disruptive when their increasing expectations are met with a major frustration. For Davies, radicalization does not occur under the most repressive regimes. Instead, a prolonged period of economic and social prosperity followed by a sharp decline is the moment for riots and revolutions. Thus, the crux of the matter is relative deprivation, not real discrepancy. Enjoying unprecedented economic and social benefits in recent history, Turkey’s Kurds demand more as an outcome of relative deprivation. Pro-Turkish constituency, however, increasingly question if it is ever possible to satisfy pro-Kurdish demands. This major gap between two constituencies is partly due to the AKP government discourse. The AKP presented pro-Kurdish reforms through a doublespeak, even at times competing with Turkish nationalist parties, and thus, have boosted the expectations for both Turkish and Kurdish constituencies. Therefore, growing frustrations in both sides may lead symbiotic clashes between Turkish and Kurdish hawks, silencing moderate voices.
The AKP government is at a crossroad. If Turkey needs a Kurdish buffer zone in the Middle East, the peace settlement with the PKK is a significant step forward. Such a step, however, entails not only bullet-point road maps written by intelligence chiefs but also well-crafted bilateral trust building. Equating ISIS and PKK would be a strategic mistake especially when it doubled with a hard-line enmity discourse that revives old feuds.
MUSTAFA GURBUZ is a policy fellow at Center for Global Policy at George Mason University and a research fellow at Rethink Institute in Washington, DC. He is the author of Transforming Ethnic Conflict: Rival Kurdish Movements in Turkey (Forthcoming, Amsterdam University Press).
Related video added by Juan Cole
“The richest 1% of people own nearly half the world’s wealth, according to a report out this week. With total global wealth more than doubling this century, total household wealth in China is now the third highest in the world, only surpassed by the US and Japan, says the report by banking giant Credit Suisse. BBC News investigates its findings – in 60 seconds.”
By Neil Thompson
When many Westerners think of the Middle East today they tend to see a region gripped by religious and sectarian violence. What all the many conflicts have in common is the participation of inflexible and fanatical groups of fighters dogmatically opposed to the further modernization and Westernization of their home countries. If they seize power, it is feared that they will impose a backwards-looking theocratic form of governance across the spaces that they dominate, and will trample on the human rights of vulnerable groups. The panacea for this in the eyes of many Western citizens is to temper religious fervour by separating it from politics and implementing a secular and liberal democratic system of government. However, no Middle Eastern state has yet to obtain such a system by its own efforts, while Western attempts to enact nation-building have so far ended in failure. Consequently, Western policymakers have tended to back authoritarian governments as a bulwark against fundamentalist rule.
The chronic weakness of state authority in the Middle East, coupled with the flourishing of extremist movements, once helped to maintain this ‘strongman’ model of governance. Yet, this strategy is now regarded at best as a stop-gap measure rather than a long-term solution to the region’s myriad problems. The default Western response to this double-sided problem has been to propose the transfer of functions performed by some religious organizations (for example healthcare) over to a stronger state. Under this scenario, religious groups would cease to perform political functions and the state would guarantee their freedom to practice their beliefs without interference.
Towards Religious Democracies
But what if the West’s secular state model is a merely a product of its own historically violent struggles with modernity in the 17th century? Up until this point in time, the very idea that religious authority should have no place in the political system of a European state would have been controversial to say the least – just as it is in parts of the modern day Middle East. But the creation of democratic systems in Indonesia and Turkey help to disprove the notion that Muslim or Middle Eastern cultures are incapable of living under democratic systems. But the ‘secularist’ price for Islamist participation in the political process was the promise not to pursue a theocratic or one-party model of government once in power.
While the Middle East’s secularists cannot keep the influence of Islamist organizations out of political life, Islamists are seemingly unable to monopolize power without resorting to the same type of oppression that discredited their republican or monarchical enemies. Democratic elections therefore offer a third path between two oppressive political systems. However, developing organic and sustainable democratic processes undoubtedly takes time; the collapse of Libya and Iraq as functioning states shows that removing a dictator does not immediately create the conditions for political transformation. If anything, the ongoing travails within these countries helps to reinforce that the Middle East has been through a whirlwind of political ferment since decolonization began a mere five or six decades ago.
Stop Taking Sides
The emergence of democratic states in other parts of the Islamic world suggests that they can also emerge in Arab and Middle Eastern states. It is also highly likely that any indigenous political group that attains significant popularity under these systems will be influenced by Islam. This is in much the same way as many Western political parties are influenced by Christian frameworks and assumptions, such as Germany’s Christian Democratic Union. Just as Western politicians have to be in favor of ideals such as “freedom” or “democracy“, leaders in Muslim-majority countries also have to appeal to the core values of their societies. Invoking Islam is both a legitimizing measure and a short-cut to the communication of ideas.
Most Islamist movements also offer programs of action that do not necessarily threaten the West. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood’s determination to secure power via democratic processes diverges with the aims of groups like IS or Al-Qaida’s Syrian franchise Jabhat al-Nusra. The West’s tolerance of the removal of elected Islamist political movements by force should be regarded as a strategic blunder that has helped to encourage jihadist narratives of victimization. The recent killing of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane is a case in point. While this Somali militant group’s profile has undoubtedly increased over the past few years, its rise to prominence was facilitated by the overthrow of its more locally-focused predecessor in a US-backed Ethiopian invasion of Somalia. By being seen to take sides in inter-Muslim disputes and colluding against fundamentalists with their local enemies, the West has indirectly encouraged more extreme forms of Islamism.
Democratic Islamism Will Lead to Accountability
It would have been wiser to leave these movements alone to discredit themselves locally, much like the Iranian or Sudanese regimes have over the years. Tehran and Khartoum are no worse than the Soviet Union, Maoist China or today’s Gulf monarchies and the West managed to co-exist (or even aligned) with all these governments for decades. Indeed, China’s example shows that the need to tackle mounting social problems slowly brings out the pragmatism in the most extreme of movements. An Islamic movement in power inevitably leans to pragmatism or falls from government. The mildly Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) has dominated Turkey’s domestic politics since 2002 mainly because it delivered on solid economic growth. This gave it the legitimacy to defang Turkey’s coup-prone army, a feat that no previous elected government had managed to achieve.
Indeed, elections offer a fresh source of legitimacy for groups that have become popular through religious advocacy or offering social services. They provide a future goal around which supporters can be mobilized. Revolutionary parties which have relied on battlefield victories for their legitimacy have to adapt or lose ground when elections start to become more important. Once Islamic parties have to focus on practical problems such as healthcare and economic growth, they either lose much of their crusading zeal or risk their political credibility and relevance.
No Quick Fixes
The key to creating a fairer Middle Eastern state is to tolerate religion governing through the state. By exposing the shortcomings of this model, democracy might consolidate its status faster in the Middle East as its political elites lose another vehicle for mobilizing public support. Electorally successful Islamic parties will moderate and their methodologies will be copied elsewhere. If the West neither helps nor hinders the process of change, it cannot be held responsible for the outcome. This strategy is not a quick fix for the problems of the Middle East today, but it might be among the most enduring.
Neil Thompson is a freelance writer who has lived and travelled extensively through East Asia and the Middle East. He holds an MA in the International Relations of East Asia from Durham University, and is now based in London. A longer version of this article was first published at the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).
A new Youtube music video on the nightmare in Syria…
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“To Our Countries” is a project produced by a group of youths who live in Sweden and are originally from Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine
Comment on Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear by Bill Bodden
Consider what a diplomatic resolution is up against: “A mysterious Iran-nuke document: A mysterious document has been used for a half dozen years to derail nuclear talks with Iran, but its origins remain dubious and one expert says it’s been used to take international inspectors ‘for a ride,’” as Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. – link to consortiumnews.com
It really isn’t an embrace of the Shia crescent. The American public will never accept that. I think the current US administration is looking for a foreign policy legacy, something like Richard Nixon’s China legacy. Unfortunately, the president has suffered a lot of foreign policy reverses. He needs this agreement with Iran to work to leave something positive behind. In the long run, however, it probably isn’t good for the US, Israel, the predominantly Sunni countries in the Middle East, nor Iran itself. It is a lose lose lose situation for everyone and will only trigger an arms race in a very unstable part of the world.
Comment on Why is this Man Smiling? Iranian Officials say Confidant of US Deal on Nuclear by Mark Koroi
The “breakout capability” you reference is what has been causing so much international concern.
The Institute For Science and International Security in a January of 2013 report predicted that Iran would have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon by mid-2014 and recommended that the U.S. president threaten military action if such an event occurred:
“……….such as Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons.”
Israel had evaded the IAEA for decades and only very recently allowed that regulatory body to inspect the Soreq Nuclear Research Facility and have never permitted any inspection of the Negev Nuclear Research Facility at Dimona by the IAEA. As a result of this evasiveness, Israel has manufactured 400 launchable fission and thermonuclear fusion bombs, according to a declassified 1997 U.S. Air Force Intelligence report “Holy of Holies”; this conclusion is accepted by most experts as accurate.
Israel’s acquisition of an atomic arsenal would have been avoidable if the U.S. and United Nations had taken swift action when intelligence was available to substantiate Israel’s intentions.
The fact that Shia theocrats have denounced nuclear weaponry is of no moment either – as other elements within the Iranian government may seek construction of a nuclear arsenal with honorable intentions – as Israeli leaders did secretly in the 1960s.
In the mid-1960s the members of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian agency, expressed reservations that elements within the Israeli government were secretly intending to manufacture nuclear bombs – and that such conduct would open up Israel to international vilification. Those otherwise astute observations vastly overestimated the zealousness of Western powers in confronting Israel in its bold attempts to acquire a nuclear arsenal that currently menaces the well-being of not only those in the Middle East, but all consumers of the world’s food chain.
Iran is a de facto ally of the West in the fight against ISIS and should give its unfettered cooperation with to allay fears of the international community that it may seek to weaponize its uranium holdings via enrichment.