Δευτέρα, 20 Οκτωβρίου 2014

Kobani and the Future of Turkish Democracy

Why the Military May Get the Upper Hand

By Halil KaraveliOCTOBER 8, 2014

Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani, October 4, 2014.
Turkish soldiers watch over the Syrian town of Kobani, October 4, 2014. 
(Murad Sezer / Courtesy Reuters)
Τurkey has anticipated Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s downfall ever since protests first broke out in Syria in 2011. It has been disappointed at every turn, though, and now it is not only Assad who is in trouble but Turkey as well. The way in which Ankara has responded to the violence across its border has upended its own political balance and re-empowered its military. It has also brought the peace process that Turkey started with the Kurdish movement to the brink of collapse.

On October 2, the Turkish parliament voted to allow Turkey to send troops across its southern borders into Syria to deal with “risks and threats against our national security along Turkey’s southern land borders.” The decision was widely interpreted as signaling that Turkey would be going to war with the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), the terrorist group that has overrun much of Iraq and Syria. Yet the preamble of the troop authorization neglects to mention ISIS and, instead, refers to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the militant group that has fought against the Turkish state since 1984. On October 4, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the authorization by stating that “ISIS and PKK are the same” and rhetorically asking why the world is not as enraged about PKK activities as it is about ISIS. In one fell swoop then, he raised serious doubts about his government’s intentions of taking the necessary steps to accommodate the Kurds and the PKK as part of ongoing negotiations 
Kurds in Turkey and Syria even believe that Ankara is still offering covert aid to ISIS in its efforts to cleanse the Kurdish population of Syria from areas adjacent to Turkey’s borders. Such accusations first arose in 2012, when Rojava -- the Kurdish region in Syria -- declared autonomy. In response, the Turkish government retorted that “We are not going to allow any fait accompli in Syria” and then sent support to Jabhat al-Nusra, an al Qaeda affiliate that attacked the Kurds. And now, as ISIS has laid siege to the Kurdish town of Kobani, which is held by a PKK-affiliated party, Turkey has come to face new accusations of complicity for failing to intervene. Last week, Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the PKK, warned that the fall of Kobani would end the peace process in Turkey. Cemil Bayik, the co-leader of the PKK’s civilian arm, said that if Ankara were to look the other way as Kobani fell, the war would restart in Turkey. He remarked that a “buffer zone (which Turkey plans to establish) would be targeting us. We cannot pursue [peace] with a power that crushes what has been achieved in Rojava.”
So far, at least, Erdogan and the Kurdish movement are still implicitly allied. Indirect Kurdish support has been, in many ways, crucial for Erdogan. The relative peace since the PKK agreed to a unilateral cease fire last year has benefited his regime. And it mattered that the Kurdish movement remained neutral, with a pro-government tilt, during the Gezi protests 2013. If the Kurds had also joined in, Erdogan would have faced a much more difficult challenge. 
Kurds in Turkey and Syria even believe that Ankara is still offering covert aid to ISIS in its efforts to cleanse the Kurdish population of Syria from areas adjacent to Turkey’s borders.
Öcalan hopes that accommodating Erdogan will pay off -- that the Kurds will get what they covet, namely some form of autonomy for the Kurdish-dominated parts of Turkey and that he himself will be released from jail. Yet that logic was always flawed. After all, it makes little sense that Erdogan would be prepared to (or could somehow be induced to) devolve power to the Kurds while he is otherwise concentrating all power into his own hands. The Kurdish leaders must know that Diyarbakir, the Turkish Kurds’ unofficial capital, will not get more democracy while Ankara gets less; however, they have had no choice but to put their faith in Erdogan.
Erdogan, for his part, has a continued interest in stringing the Kurds along. But the turmoil in Syria is forcing both sides’ hands. The Kurds have had to deal with growing anger among their younger generation, who are incensed at what they see as Turkish complicity in the assault on Syrian Kurds. That pushes the Kurdish leadership into a more radical stance. Meanwhile, the growing insecurity on Turkey’s southern borders is pushing Erdogan to be more attentive to the views and recommendations of the military.
On August 30 this year, the Turkish military high command went public with its displeasure with the peace process. Necdet Özel, the Chief of the General Staff, expressed dissatisfaction at not having been consulted by the government. He reminded the country that the military’s red lines -- the unity and the territorial integrity of the nation -- remain unchanged. He vowed that the armed forces will “act accordingly” if those red lines were to be crossed. Özel’s thinly-veiled message to the government was that Kurdish self-rule would not be tolerated.
Before the Turkish parliament voted to allow troops to intervene in Syria and Iraq, Özel and the army and air force commanders held a briefing -- the first of its kind in years -- for the government. The generals requested that the government move quickly to establish buffer zones at four points in Syria -- one of them including the Kurdish town of Kobani -- in order to preserve Turkey’s security interests. They said that this should be done even if the United States disapproves. The details of the briefing were reported in the main pro-government daily Yeni Safak, which observed that “The presidency, the military and the government nowadays speak with one voice.”
The last time the Turkish military was in a similar position to shape the policies of a civilian government was during the 1990s, when the war between the PKK and the Turkish state escalated. It is now set to wield power once more as security threats mount. The AKP had supposedly domesticated the military by jailing hundreds of officers and by asserting the authority of the elected government in the National Security Council, which used to be dominated by army generals. But the officers were freed earlier this year after the country’s constitutional court ruled that the officers’ rights had been violated. Perhaps in trying to make lemonade out of lemons as the military grows stronger, Erdogan has come to see military support as crucial to help him root out supporters of his erstwhile ally turned enemy, the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, within the state bureaucracy. 
And, at any rate, Erdogan is a rightist, so it is not a terribly big step for him to embrace the generals’ views on the Kurdish issue. Historically, democratically elected rightist governments have been just as prone as the military to curtail freedoms and liberties. In this light, the anti-Kurdish alliance of Erdogan and the generals is but the latest affirmation of the nationalist–conservative identity at the core of the Turkish republic; civilian rightist governments and the military alike have subscribed to it.
But the effects of the Syrian turmoil could also be a catalyst for a political realignment that would put Turkey on a different, more democratic trajectory. For the Kurds, restarting hostilities is a dead end: They simply cannot defeat Turkey. The alternative for the Kurdish movement is thus to explore the possibility of an alliance with the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP). A de facto alliance did in fact emerge during the vote to authorize the military incursion into Syria and Iraq. Against the pro-war camp -- which included the AKP and the anti-Kurdish Nationalist Action Party -- stood an anti-war coalition composed of the CHP and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). 
The CHP and HDP share a common social democratic ideology, but they are also divided by nationalism. CHP has become more consistently social democratic under the leadership of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, but the party still has a vocal, Turkish nationalist wing that would not be comfortable with a broad Turkish–Kurdish social democratic coalition. Still, the strong showing of HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas during the recent presidential election might change some minds. Although the pro-Kurdish party does not usually attract more than six percent of the votes nationwide, Demirtas received nearly ten percent. He did so by highlighting liberal and leftist themes that resonated with urban liberals and Turkish and Kurdish social democratic constituencies.
The HDP and CHP are in the process of exploring the possibility of some form of cooperation in the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for 2015. For that to happen, though, both parties would have to undergo significant changes and distance themselves from their respective nationalist strains That is, in all probability, a long shot, especially in the case of the CHP. But if Turkish and Kurdish social democrats were to present a united front, Turkey would get what it has lacked since the 1970s, a strong social democratic alternative to the dominant, authoritarian right. 
Unfortunately, given Turkey’s history, it is more likely that growing insecurity and heightened conflict is going to further entrench authoritarianism.
Given Turkey’s history, it is more likely that growing insecurity and heightened conflict is going to further entrench authoritarianism.

Islamic State: What has Kobane battle taught us?

Smoke rises after an airstrike on KobaneKobane has been hit by dozens of airstrikes
After a month of fighting, defenders of Kobane say Islamic State (IS) has been virtually driven out of the Syrian town. So what has been learned from this battle?
1. Kobane is not "strategically" important.
At least not in the classic sense of that word. It will not decide the fate of the Syrian civil war or indeed of the Pentagon-led campaign, designated Operation Inherent Resolve, against IS.
The primary importance of Kobane, a town populated by Kurds on the border with Turkey, lies in the scale of human misery that the battle and its displacement of 250,000 people has created.
This has had knock-on effects on the Kurdish relationship with Turkey, where most of those people have gone.
Turkey has been trying to push forward a peace process with its own Kurdish population following a long insurgency.
The battle has also aggravated Turkey's relationships with its allies. In terms of a win for IS, it is in aggravating these tensions that Kobane comes closest.
2. Both IS and the Pentagon chose to fight there for propaganda reasons.
As far as the US-led coalition is concerned, Syria comes second, for the time being at least.
General John Allen, co-ordinating the campaign, noted on Wednesday that "the emergency in Iraq right now is foremost in our thinking".
But if that's true, why have there been so many air strikes around the Kurdish town?
Central Command says there have been dozens this week, with 14 between Tuesday and Wednesday.
The battle has undoubtedly presented IS with a chance for a big propaganda win and, therefore, the coalition with a need to deny them that gain.
Whether or not Kobane holds out long term, the US and its allies have now used it as an opportunity to show solidarity with the Kurds and pummel their mutual enemy.
By avoiding a commitment to hold the town, and even implying that it's likely to fall, US commanders have tried to deny any propaganda advantage.
Graves of Kurds killed in fighting in KobaneA number of Kurds have been killed and 250,000 displaced
3. Geography has been critical.
It is Kobane's location on the Turkish border that has prevented it turning into a siege in the true sense of it being surrounded.
It is also its physical location that made it the subject of worldwide TV coverage, as journalists have watched the battle unfolding from nearby hilltops in Turkey.
This proximity has allowed fighters to come in and out and some limited re-supply. In the last extreme it would allow the town's defenders to escape.
The Kurds have made many accusations against the Turkish authorities on the border, including that they have prevented re-supply and disarmed their fighters trying to leave Syria.
There is considerable truth in this, as those fighting across the border in Syria are an arm of the same movement as Turkey's domestic Kurdish enemy, the PKK.
But journalists in Suruc, the nearby Turkish frontier town, have met fighters who have been passing back and forth.
It is also reasonable to infer that Kobane's defenders would have run out of ammunition by now if re-supplies had not been coming across the border.
One well-placed Turk told me that supplies had indeed been allowed across.
There's one more intriguing aspect to the geography. It is also, almost certainly, helping the coalition to achieve its high strike rate in the town.
Whether the eyes doing the targeting are actually in Turkey or have crossed into Kobane itself may not become clear for a long time.
But the rate of air strikes, accuracy, and general absence of drones over the area all point to targeting from the ground.
Of course all of these geographic factors underline the difficulty in achieving the same effects somewhere deeper in Syria.
Turkish soldier watching events in KobaneEvents in Kobane have been monitored by Turkish forces
4. By concentrating in one area, IS gives its enemies the opportunity to kill them.
The Pentagon claims to have killed "hundreds" of jihadist fighters in the town.
Whether or not this is an over-estimate, reliable reporting in the past 36 hours suggests some kind of pull-back by IS.
Are they just re-grouping or is the fight proving too costly?
The anti-IS campaign so far has actually had great difficulty in generating the kind of intelligence that allows effective strikes.
That and the dispersal of IS fighters among civilian communities are the prime reasons why 90% or so of the missions designated for bombing have not released their weapons.
But when the IS fighters gather for an assault, opportunities are created for the US and its allies.
This happened in the open territory around Iraq's Mosul dam at the start of the campaign against IS, and again in Kobane, where the evacuation of most civilians has allowed strikes to go ahead at low risk to them.
There can be little doubt that many or even most weapons dropped there have struck home.
Crowds gather near Kobane to shout anti-IS slogansCrowds have shouted anti-IS slogans from the hillsides in Turkey
5. By distracting IS from the battle in western Iraq, it is in the coalition's interest to keep Kobane going for as long as possible.
Recent gains by the militants in the Iraqi province of Anbar have caused the most worry to the Pentagon.
These have shown the continued weakness of the Iraqi army, and exposed the remaining Sunni tribal allies of the Baghdad government to massacre.
This week, US advisers have been inserted into some of the Iraqi bases that are still holding out in Anbar, and one in Diyala province too.
The aim is to co-ordinate a much more aggressive air effort than has been possible up to now.
In this sense, the Americans have been using air power in Kobane, away from where they really need it, because they have lacked the means to target IS in Anbar with the same intensity.
For IS though, the Kobane battle acquired its own logic, drawing in heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery, that might have been better used elsewhere.
Each side has had its own reasons for continuing the fight in the Syrian town.
But even an IS-friendly assessment of the battle would have to conclude that it had been long and difficult and hardly the kind of whirlwind victory that it won time and again in northern Iraq back in June.
Smoke billows over a village near KobaneAreas surrounding Kobane have also been hit from the air
Mark UrbanArticle written by Mark UrbanMark UrbanDiplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

Τετάρτη, 15 Οκτωβρίου 2014

Frenemies: The insincere alliance between US and Turkey

Secretary of State John Kerry and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan take their seats in the president's office during a meeting in Ankara, Sept. 12, 2014.  (photo by REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski)
On Oct. 14, US Secretary of State John Kerry said of Turkey: “Turkey, yeah. There’s — Turkey is a very valued member of the coalition and has joined the coalition, is doing things in the coalition, is committed to things in the coalition. And as far as I know, there is no discrepancy with respect to what is going on. Gen. [John] Allen was there, he had long meetings with them. The meetings, in his judgment, helped to move the ball forward. And so I really think that Turkey obviously has a very important role to play in this process going forward. … I mean, Turkey has agreed to host and train and equip people. It certainly has allowed the use of certain facilities, and we don’t need to get into specifics except to say that I don’t believe there is any discrepancy with respect to what they will or won’t do.”
Summary⎙ Print While Ankara and Washington maintain there's “no discrepancy” between Turkey and the United States over fighting the Islamic State, it's quite clear there's a huge chasm between them.
Author Cengiz ÇandarPosted October 15, 2014
What is particularly noticeable is Kerry’s insistence that “there is no discrepancy between Turkey and the United States.” Here the keyword is discrepancy.
Kerry’s remarks were in response to the following question:
“Mr. Secretary, the national security adviser on Sunday said that Turkey agreed to allow coalition use of its military bases, and yet Turkish officials have denied that such an agreement was reached. And also the Turkish military has begun striking PKK targets, which one could argue weakens the joint fight against Daesh [the Islamic State, or IS, formerly known as ISIS]. So can you clarify what understanding you have with the Turks with regard to their role in the fight against Daesh? And what is their policy on this?”
The “mission impossible” of clarifying the “no discrepancy” between Turkey and United States fell once more on Jen Psaki, the spokeswoman of the State Department. In her daily briefing on the same day, she was asked: “Secretary Kerry just addressed some of the questions, and he said that there is no difference between Turkey and US positions over what is agreed. … First of all, has Turkey given authority or agreed — to let the United States use US facilities and bases in Turkey against ISIS?”
And she responded: “There are already measures that Turkey has taken, including efforts to counter the flow of foreign fighters. They’ve also been hosting more than 170,000 refugees who’ve crossed into the border. … Turkey agreed to host a train-and-equip program and to allow for use of some of the facilities for the coalition. There are also, naturally, going to be discussions at the mil-to-mil level, which is only appropriate.”
For a professional journalist, it would be impossible not to see how garbled Psaki’s response was. So then, the natural question was inevitable: “So the national security adviser, Susan Rice, said that Turkey actually gave authority about the bases. It is not correct?”
She looked for an escape route, responding: “I don’t believe that’s what she said exactly in her quote. I know there were some background quotes from unnamed officials — so you always have to caution against some of those — that didn’t have information that was consistent with the agreement. But what I just outlined is what we have agreed to.”
The rest was an amusing Q&A exercise:
Q:  When you say “facilities,” do they include the use — assist to the use of air force?
A:  Well, which specific facilities and how they’ll be used is part of the discussion that we’re having with Turkey and we’ll have over the coming days.
Q:  So there’s no — still no confirmation of the kind of facilities you can use?
A: Well, obviously, hosting a train-and-equip program will require certain facilities, but which and how and where is part of the discussion that’s ongoing at this point in time.
Q: Yeah, but I mean outside of that, the equipping and training. I’m talking about the coalition effort and — against ISIS.
A:  Well, that’s part of the coalition effort, in our view. Are you talking — I mean, the fact is there are a range of important functions that support our coalition operation that don’t involve airstrikes. I’m just not going to outline that much further than that.
Q:  So you’re not talking about the use of the Incirlik Air Base, for instance?
A: Well, I think, said, some of this is there will be discussions about specific facilities and how they’ll be used. And as those discussions continue, perhaps we’ll have more to say, or more importantly, Turkey will have more to say.
Rice said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Oct. 12: “They (Turkey) have said that their facilities inside of Turkey can be used by the coalition forces — American and otherwise — to engage in activities inside of Iraq and Syria.”
Rice did not specify what kind of military activities the United States would be allowed to conduct from bases in Turkey, but when it comes to “facilities inside of Turkey,” anybody familiar with such an issue knows and interprets that Incirlik is “the base” in Turkey. So, the media coverage in and out of Turkey was that Turkey finally bowed to US demands to allow Incirlik to be used for American air operations against IS in Syria.
Denial by Turkish officials was not late in coming. A day later, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said there was as of yet no decision on Incirlik, but that Turkey had reached consensus with the United States on issues such as a project to train and equip rebel Syrian fighters.
The consensus to train and equip Syrian rebels is not a novelty. It has been going on covertly for nearly two years. The important element in the Turkish-American discrepancy was about Incirlik.
The Financial Times reported on the Incirlik issue in very blunt terms: “Turkey has poured cold water on claims that the US-led anti-jihadi coalition has secured greater use of military bases in Turkish territory, highlighting continuing differences between Washington and Ankara.
“After US officials said that Ankara had agreed — at least in principle — to expanded use of the US air base in Incirlik, Turkey, Turkish officials said on Monday that no such agreement had yet been reached and that the government had not changed its position. But they added that talks were going on.”
The Washington Post was even more specific: “A statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said talks are continuing between Ankara and Washington over whether to permit US forces to use Incirlik in the fight against the Islamic State, … however, ‘There is no new agreement on the Incirlik issue,’ the statement said.”
But it also added: “In a reflection of the sensitivity of the matter, US officials on Monday were reluctant to further address or clarify the issue for fear of irritating the Turks. “We are grateful for steps Turkey is taking to support the coalition, to include training and the use of some facilities,” said a US defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”
Turkey’s denial on news that a deal was reached on Incirlik provided fuel to conservative critics of the Obama administration.
Charles Krauthammer told “Special Report” host Bret Baier on Fox News Channel that Rice’s comments on “Meet The Press,” coupled with the Turks’ denial. were a “huge embarrassment” and “unbelievable.” The conservative commentator also blamed Obama for this failure to reach an agreement, wondering why the Turks would join a war “where the leader of the coalition is not serious.”
The crucial point in facilitating Incirlik for the American or coalition airstrikes on IS in Syria is not solely a military issue. It, rather, is a political one. Opening up the base for the warplanes, without any doubt, would make it easier for the US Air Force. But, more than that it will signify Turkey’s willingness to fully engage and participate in the coalition led by Washington to fight IS over the Sunni lands of Syria and Iraq.
And here comes the discrepancy in Turkish and US positions: Turkey wants the United States to target the Assad regime to provide its ultimate downfall on behalf of Turkey. That is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s priority.
Despite the pains of American officials to convince people that there is no discrepancy between Ankara and Washington, indeed there is.

Read more: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/10/turkey-united-states-syria-kobani-coalition-isis.html#ixzz3GHPTIODp

Τρίτη, 7 Οκτωβρίου 2014

Turkey, the Kurds and Iraq: The Prize and Peril of Kirkuk

Geopolitical Weekly TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2014   

By Reva BhallaIn June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d'Orsay. The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together.


He began with a message, not of reproach, but of inculpability: "Gentlemen, I should not be bold enough to come before this High Assembly if I thought that the Ottoman people had incurred any responsibility in the war that has ravaged Europe and Asia with fire and sword." His speech was followed by an even more defiant memorandum, denouncing any attempt to redistribute Ottoman land to the Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, asserting: "In Asia, the Turkish lands are bounded on the south by the provinces of Mosul and Diyarbakir, as well as a part of Aleppo as far as the Mediterranean." When Damat Ferid's demands were presented in Paris, the Allies were in awe of the gall displayed by the Ottoman delegation. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George regarded the presentation as a "good joke," while U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said he had never seen anything more "stupid." They flatly rejected Damat Ferid's apparently misguided appeal -- declaring that the Turks were unfit to rule over other races, regardless of their common Muslim identity -- and told him and his delegation to leave. The Western powers then proceeded, through their own bickering, to divide the post-Ottoman spoils.

Under far different circumstances today, Ankara is again boldly appealing to the West to follow its lead in shaping policy in Turkey's volatile Muslim backyard. And again, Western powers are looking at Turkey with incredulity, waiting for Ankara to assume responsibility for the region by tackling the immediate threat of the Islamic State with whatever resources necessary, rather than pursuing a seemingly reckless strategy of toppling the Syrian government. Turkey's behavior can be perplexing and frustrating to Western leaders, but the country's combination of reticence in action and audacity in rhetoric can be traced back to many of the same issues that confronted Istanbul in 1919, beginning with the struggle over the territory of Mosul.

The Turkish Fight for Mosul
Under the Ottoman Empire, the Mosul vilayet stretched from Zakho in southeastern Anatolia down along the Tigris River through Dohuk, Arbil, Alqosh, Kirkuk, Tuz Khormato and Sulaimaniyah before butting up against the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains, which shape the border with Iran. This stretch of land, bridging the dry Arab steppes and the fertile mountain valleys in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been a locus of violence long before the Islamic State arrived. The area has been home to an evolving mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Assyro-Chaldeans and Jews, while Turkish and Persian factions and the occasional Western power, whether operating under a flag or a corporate logo, continue to work in vain to eke out a demographic makeup that suits their interests.
At the time of the British negotiation with the Ottomans over the fate of the Mosul region, British officers touring the area wrote extensively about the ubiquity of the Turkish language, noting that "Turkish is spoken all along the high road in all localities of any importance." This fact formed part of Turkey's argument that the land should remain under Turkish sovereignty. Even after the 1923 signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey renounced its rights to Ottoman lands, the Turkish government still held out a claim to the Mosul region, fearful that the Brits would use Kurdish separatism to further weaken the Turkish state. Invoking the popular Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the Turkish government asserted to the League of Nations that most of the Kurds and Arabs inhabiting the area preferred to be part of Turkey anyway. The British countered by asserting that their interviews with locals revealed a prevailing preference to become part of the new British-ruled Kingdom of Iraq.The Turks, in no shape to bargain with London and mired in a deep internal debate over whether Turkey should forego these lands and focus instead on the benefits of a downsized republic, lost the argument and were forced to renounce their claims to the Mosul territory in 1925. As far as the Brits and the French were concerned, the largely Kurdish territory would serve as a vital buffer space to prevent the Turks from eventually extending their reach from Asia Minor to territories in Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia. But the fear of Turkish expansion was not the only factor informing the European strategy to keep northern Iraq out of Turkish hands.

The Oil Factor

Since the days of Herodotus and Nebuchadnezzar, there have been stories of eternal flames arising from the earth of Baba Gurgur near the town of Kirkuk. German explorer and cartographer Carsten Niebuhr wrote in the 18th century: "A place called Baba Gurgur is above all remarkable because the earth is so hot that eggs and meat can be boiled here." The flames were in fact produced by the natural gas and naphtha seeping through cracks in the rocks, betraying the vast quantities of crude oil lying beneath the surface. London wasted little time in calling on geologists from Venezuela, Mexico, Romania and Indochina to study the land and recommend sites for drilling. On Oct. 14, 1927, the fate of Kirkuk was sealed: A gusher rising 43 meters (around 140 feet) erupted from the earth, dousing the surrounding land with some 95,000 barrels of crude oil for 10 days before the well could be capped. With oil now part of the equation, the political situation in Kirkuk became all the more flammable.
The British mostly imported Sunni Arab tribesmen to work the oil fields, gradually reducing the Kurdish majority and weakening the influence of the Turkmen minority in the area. The Arabization project was given new energy when the Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power through a military coup in 1968. Arabic names were given to businesses, neighborhoods, schools and streets, while laws were adjusted to pressure Kurds to leave Kirkuk and transfer ownership of their homes and lands to Arabs. Eviction tactics turned ghastly in 1988 under Saddam Hussein's Anfal campaign, during which chemical weapons were employed against the Kurdish population. The Iraqi government continued with heavy-handed tactics to Arabize the territory until the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003. Naturally, revenge was a primary goal as Kurdish factions worked quickly to repopulate the region with Kurds and drive the Arabs out.
Even as Kirkuk, its oil-rich fields and a belt of disputed territories stretching between Diyala and Nineveh provinces have remained officially under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish leadership has sought to redraw the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the Iraqi Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy with the creation of a no-fly zone in 1991 and then formally coalesced into the Kurdistan Regional Government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish influence gradually expanded in the disputed areas. Kurdish representation increased through multi-ethnic political councils, facilitated by the security protection these communities received from the Kurdish peshmerga and by the promise of energy revenues, while Baghdad remained mired in its own problems. Formally annexing Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala, part of the larger Kurdish strategy, would come in due time. Indeed, the expectation that legalities of the annexation process would soon be completed convinced a handful of foreign energy firms to sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities -- as opposed to Baghdad -- enabling the disputed territories to finally begin realizing the region's energy potential.
Then the unexpected happened: In June, the collapse of the Iraqi army in the north under the duress of the Islamic State left the Kirkuk fields wide open, allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to finally and fully occupy them. Though the Kurds now sit nervously on the prize, Baghdad, Iran, local Arabs and Turkmen and the Islamic State are eyeing these fields with a predatory gaze. At the same time, a motley force of Iran-backed Shiite militias, Kurdish militants and Sunni tribesmen are trying to flush the Islamic State out of the region in order to return to settling the question of where to draw the line on Kurdish autonomy. The Sunnis will undoubtedly demand a stake in the oil fields that the Kurds now control as repayment for turning on the Islamic State, guaranteeing a Kurdish-Sunni confrontation that Baghdad will surely exploit.

The Turkish Dilemma

The modern Turkish government is looking at Iraq and Syria in a way similar to how Damat Ferid did almost a century ago when he sought in Paris to maintain Turkish sovereignty over the region. From Ankara's point of view, the extension of a Turkish sphere of influence into neighboring Muslim lands is the antidote to weakening Iraqi and Syrian states. Even if Turkey no longer has direct control over these lands, it hopes to at least indirectly re-establish its will through select partners, whether a group of moderate Islamist forces in Syria or, in northern Iraq, a combination of Turkmen and Sunni factions, along with a Kurdish faction such as Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. The United States may currently be focused on the Islamic State, but Turkey is looking years ahead at the mess that will likely remain. This is why Turkey is placing conditions on its involvement in the battle against the Islamic State: It is trying to convince the United States and its Sunni Arab coalition partners that it will inevitably be the power administering this region. Therefore, according to Ankara, all players must conform to its priorities, beginning with replacing Syria's Iran-backed Alawite government with a Sunni administration that will look first to Ankara for guidance.

However, the Turkish vision of the region simply does not fit the current reality and is earning Ankara more rebuke than respect from its neighbors and the West. The Kurds, in particular, will continue to form the Achilles' heel of Turkish policymaking.

In Syria, where the Islamic State is closing in on the city of Kobani on Turkey's border, Ankara is faced with the unsavory possibility that it will be drawn into a ground fight with a well-equipped insurgent force. Moreover, Turkey would be fighting on the same side as a variety of Kurdish separatists, including members of Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Ankara has every interest in neutralizing.

Turkey faces the same dilemma in Iraq, where it may unwittingly back Kurdish separatists in its fight against the Islamic State. Just as critical, Turkey cannot be comfortable with the idea that Kirkuk is in the hands of the Iraqi Kurds unless Ankara is assured exclusive rights over that energy and the ability to extinguish any oil-fueled ambitions of Kurdish independence. But Turkey has competition. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not willing to make itself beholden to Turkey, as did Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, while financial pressures continue to climb. Instead, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is staying close to Iran and showing a preference to work with Baghdad. Meanwhile, local Arab and Turkmen resistance to Kurdish rule is rising, a factor that Baghdad and Iran will surely exploit as they work to dilute Kurdish authority by courting local officials in Kirkuk and Nineveh with promises of energy rights and autonomy.

This is the crowded battleground that Turkey knows well. A long and elaborate game of "keep away" will be played to prevent the Kurds from consolidating control over oil-rich territory in the Kurdish-Arab borderland, while the competition between Turkey and Iran will emerge into full view. For Turkey to compete effectively in this space, it will need to come to terms with the reality that Ankara will not defy its history by resolving the Kurdish conundrum, nor will it be able to hide within its borders and avoid foreign entanglements. 
Editor's Note: Writing in George Friedman's stead this week is Reva Bhalla, vice president of Global Analysis.

Read more: Turkey, the Kurds and Iraq: The Prize and Peril of Kirkuk | Stratfor
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Δευτέρα, 6 Οκτωβρίου 2014

The heroes of Kobani - the Kurds fighting ISIS

By Daren Butler and Mariam Karouny
Kurds Vow To Fight To The Last As Islamic State Tightens Grip On Syrian Town

Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Oct. 3, 2014. (photo by REUTERS/Murad Sezer)

(Reuters) - Outgunned Kurdish fighters vowed on Monday not to abandon their increasingly desperate efforts to defend the Syrian border town of Kobani from Islamic State militants pressing in from three sides and pounding them with heavy artillery.

The radical Al Qaeda offshoot has been battling for more than two weeks to seize the predominantly Kurdish town, driving 180,000 people into neighboring Turkey.

Air strikes by American and Gulf state warplanes have failed to halt the advance of the Islamists, who moved to the outskirts of the town over the weekend and were battling to secure a strategic hilltop in the face of fierce resistance.

Despite the heavy fighting, which has seen mortars rain down on residential areas in Kobani and stray fire hit Turkish territory, a Reuters reporter saw around 30 people cross over from Turkey, apparently to help with defense of the town.

"Fighting continues, they are also firing mortars at the heart of the town. We have light weapons only," Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobani Defence Authority, said by telephone.

"If they enter Kobani, it will be a graveyard for us and for them. We will not let them enter Kobani as long as we live. We either win or die. We will resist to the end," Sheikh said as heavy and light weapons fire echoed from the eastern side of town.

Ismail Eskin, a journalist in the town, said morale was still high "because the people are protecting their own soil".

"They will not allow (Islamic State) to occupy Kobani," he said.


Islamic State wants to take Kobani to consolidate a dramatic sweep across northern Iraq and Syria, in the name of an absolutist version of Sunni Islam, that has sent shock waves through the Middle East.

Beheadings, mass killings and torture have spread fear of the group across the region, with villages emptying at the approach of pick-up trucks flying Islamic State's black flag.

One female Kurdish fighter near Kobani blew herself up on Sunday after running out of ammunition, rather than be captured by IS, a monitoring group and local sources said.

"They have ammunition, but it is so little," said Pawer Mohammed Ali, a translator for the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) inside Kobani. "The PYD are just appealing to foreign forces for ammunition because (Islamic State) is using heavy weapons, tanks and mortars."

On Sunday, Islamic State released a video apparently showing its fighters in control of radio masts on top of Mistanour hill, which looks out over the town and would offer valuable high ground. Reuters was not able to independently verify the contents of the video.

Ali said fighting for control of Mistanour hill was continuing, and denied reports that IS fighters were in the streets of Kobani. He said Kurdish forces were holding them back but the situation in the town, where water and power had been cut off, was increasingly desperate.

Turkish hospitals have been treating a steady stream of wounded Kurdish fighters being brought across the frontier. Witnesses who had fled Kobani said that old women were being given grenades to throw, and young women with no fighting experience were being armed and sent into battle.


Kobani's Kurds have so far received little help from elsewhere. Turkey has given shelter to the bulk of the area's refugees, and its doctors have treated the wounded, but it has given no suggestion that it could join the fight against Islamic State, beyond gestures of self-defense.

Over the weekend, President Tayyip Erdogan vowed to retaliate if Islamic State attacked Turkish forces, and on Monday Turkish tanks deployed along the border for the second time in a week, some with guns pointing towards Syria, apparently in response to stray fire crossing the frontier.

Still, Islamic State's release last month of 46 Turkish hostages, and a parliamentary motion last week renewing a mandate allowing Turkish troops to cross into Syria and Iraq, have raised expectations that Ankara may be planning a more active role.

Its calculations are complex, however.

For three decades, Ankara has fought an armed insurgency by its own Kurdish PKK militants demanding greater autonomy in Turkey's southeast.

Analysts say it is now wary of helping Syrian Kurdish forces near Kobani as they have strong links with the PKK and have maintained ambiguous relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to whom Turkey is implacably opposed.

Against that are warnings from the leaders of Turkey's Kurds that allowing Syria's Kurds to be driven from Kobani would spell the end of Erdogan's delicately poised drive to negotiate an end to his own Kurdish insurgency and permanently disarm the PKK.

Τρίτη, 23 Σεπτεμβρίου 2014

Τα τουρκικά σίριαλ... καταστρέφουν ελληνικά μνημεία, εκκλησίες και έργα τέχνης

Σκηνές ντροπής και εγκατάλειψης

Πρόκειται για ντροπή και για ασύγγνωστη ασέβεια, την οποία, προφανώς, οι τούρκοι παραγωγοί των γνωστών σίριαλ δεν νιώθουν. Έτσι δεν διστάζουν για τις... ανάγκες των φτηνών σεναρίων τους να καταστρέψουν, να προκαλέσουν βανδαλισμούς, ακόμα και να κάψουν ιστορικά ελληνικά μνημεία, εκκλησίες, αρχοντικά και έργα τέχνης.

Όπως αναφέρει το Vima.gr, το εξωφρενικό είναι ότι πρωταγωνιστές των τουρκικών σίριαλ που μετέχουν και σε καταστροφές χριστιανικών μνημείων είναι γνωστοί στην Ελλάδα από τη συμμετοχή τους σε άλλα σίριαλ, όπως ο Μεχμέτ Ακίφ Αλακούρτ (Σιλά), η Οζλέμ Γιλμάζ (Μοιραίος Έρωτας).
Την αποκάλυψη φέρνει σε φως η εφημερίδα «Σημερινή» της Κύπρου, με τη σημείωση ότι από τη βεβήλωση των χριστιανικών ναών και των ελληνικών μνημείων έχουν ξεσηκωθεί ακόμα και πολιτιστικοί σύλλογοι στην Τουρκία.
Υπενθυμίζεται ότι ακόμα και ο Πάπας είχε ενδιαφερθεί για την καταστροφή χριστιανικών εκκλησιών στην κατεχόμενη Κύπρο (τις είχαν μετατρέψει σε στάβλους, μπαρ ή κοτέτσια) και είχε επισκεφθεί μάλιστα και τη Λευκωσία ζητώντας σεβασμό.
Στην Καππαδοκία
Ήδη στην Καππαδοκία που έχει χρησιμοποιηθεί ως σημείο πολλών γυρισμάτων, έχουν καταστραφεί χριστιανικά μνημεία, επειδή έτσι ήθελε ο σεναριαγράφος των τουρκικών σειρών. Οι τούρκοι δεν διστάζουν να βεβηλώσουν τόπους ιστορικής σημασίας. Και είναι τόσο μεγάλο το μένος τους για τα χριστιανικά μνημεία που ακόμα και σκεπτόμενοι τούρκοι διαμαρτυρήθηκαν. Εκπρόσωποι πολιτιστικών οργανισμών της περιοχής της Καππαδοκίας ζήτησαν ήδη παρέμβαση του εισαγγελέα.
Τελευταίο θύμα της τουρκικής τηλεοπτικής κουλτούρας (που δεν ενόχλησε καθόλου το τουρκικό υπουργείο Πολιτισμού) είναι η εκκλησίας της Κοιμήσεως της Θεοτόκου στη Νεάπολη (Νεβσεχίρ) στην Καππαδοκία.
Όπως έγραψε η τουρκική εφημερίδα Yeni Safak οι δημιουργοί της σειράς Emanet (Παρακαταθήκη), με πρωταγωνιστές τους γνωστούς στην Ελλάδα Αλακούρτ και Γιλμάζ επέλεξαν το εσωτερικό της ιστορικής εκκλησίας για να γυρίσουν σκηνές βίας προκαλώντας μάλιστα και σοβαρές ζημιές.
Ήταν τόσες οι ζημιές προκάλεσαν που διαμαρτυρήθηκε και ο διευθυντής του Ιδρύματος Έρευνας και Προστασίας Κτισμάτων της Καππαδοκίας κ. Μιουκρεμίν Τοκμάκ ο οποίος προχώρησε σε καταγγελία στην εισαγγελία: «Η καταστροφή είναι πολύ μεγάλη» σημειώνει ο κ. Τομκάτ στην καταγγελία του προς την εισαγγελία, επειδή οι ιθύνοντες της σειράς που γυρίζεται για το FOX Tv (και έχει ήδη ελληνική σελίδα στο Facebook) κατέστρεψαν τις σιδερένιες μπάρες που είχαν τοποθετηθεί για την προστασία του περιβόλου της εκκλησίας και αφού παραβίασαν τις πόρτες, εισέβαλαν στον ιερό ναό.
Πριν από τρία χρόνια το τουρκικό Ιδρυμα για την Προώθηση και Προστασία του Περιβάλλοντος και της Πολιτιστικής Κληρονομιάς (CEKUL) είχε καταγγείλει τα τουρκικά τηλεοπτικά συνεργεία που πήγαν για γύρισμα στην περιοχή της Καππαδοκίας ότι προκάλεσαν σοβαρές ζημιές σε χριστιανικές εκκλησίες, ελληνικής κατοικίες ιστορικής σημασίας και ελληνικά μνημεία: «Έβαλαν φωτιά σε ένα παλιό ελληνικό αρχοντικό σε γειτονιά του Μουσταφά Πασά για τις ανάγκες της τηλεοπτικής σειράς Αyat Devam Ediyor (Η ζωή συνεχίζεται), που γυρίστηκε από έναν τούρκο τραγουδιστή και ηθοποιό», είχε πει στην εφημερίδα Χουριέτ εκπρόσωπος του Ιδρύματος, αναφερόμενος στην καταστροφή του ιστορικού κτιρίου που βρισκόταν στο ελληνόφωνο χωριό Σινασός. Πριν από την ανταλλαγή πληθυσμών είχε 3.000 έλληνες κατοίκους..
Ασέβεια στην Τζαλέλα
Ανάλογη ασέβεια (και βεβήλωση) υπήρξε και στα γυρίσματα της τηλεοπτικής σειράς Yer Gok Ask (Η αγάπη είναι παντού) στο χωριό Προκόπι (σήμερα Ουργκούπ), στον τόπο όπου έζησε και αγίασε ο Οσιος Ιωάννης ο Ρώσος. Για τις ανάγκες του σίριαλ είχαν βάλει φωτιά σε λάστιχα και ξύλα στο εσωτερικό του χριστιανικού ναού, στην περιοχή Τζεμίλ ή Τζαλέλα. Στην περιοχή αυτή υπήρχαν έλληνες πριν από το ΄24. Το μένος όμως των τηλεοπτικών συνεργείων δεν σταμάτησε εκεί. Έκαψαν και τέσσερα πολύτιμα έργα τέχνης που είχαν παραχωρήσει στο χωριό ένα Ιδιωτικό Μουσείο Τέχνης και Ιστορίας.

Πηγή: Τα τουρκικά σίριαλ... καταστρέφουν ελληνικά μνημεία, εκκλησίες και έργα τέχνης -Σκηνές ντροπής και εγκατάλειψης | iefimerida.gr http://www.iefimerida.gr/node/171347#ixzz3EAFUyksC