New Cold War.org, Sept 5, 2016
Two article are enclosed, plus a panel discussion on Iran’s Press TV service.
Turkey seeks to crush Kurdish aspirations for statehood
Interview with Vijay Prashad on The Real News Network, Sept 4, 2016
Sharmini Peries, Executive Producer of The Real News Network: Vijay, just the other day, The Guardian had an article with the headline “Turkey’s Syria Offensive Shows How Each Party Is Fighting Its Own War”. Indeed, all the parties that are directly involved in Syria, whether it’s Turkey or Russia or the U.S., are pursuing different strategies and objectives. Sometimes they work together, sometimes they work against each other. What do you make of this latest offensive and Turkey’s expulsion of both ISIS and YPG fighters?
Vijay Prashad: Well, this particular Turkish incursion was a long time coming. The YPG, or the Syrian Kurdish fighters, have been making tremendous gains in northern Syria, so they were eager to get air power from somebody. But last year, the YPG very cleverly called a meeting of various other militia groups from different ethnic backgrounds, whether Turkmen on the one side, Arabs, Syriacs, different groups, Armenians, and they constituted out of this meeting the Syrian Democratic Forces, which pledged itself to a kind of Syrian federalism and vowed to be the military shield of northern Syria. That was the agenda that they put forward.
This, of course, then allowed the United States to come and back them because they are, after all, a secular force, they don’t have any links to al-Qaeda and they’ve been making tremendous gains against ISIS. So the United States provided close air support for the Syrian Democratic Forces who crossed the Euphrates River. I think this is a very important point–they crossed the Euphrates River to go and seize the town of Manbij, which is on the western side of the Euphrates.
In doing this, what the Syrian Democratic Forces have done was to come extremely close to creating a contiguous band of territory that stretched along the Turkish border from, the northern Aleppo countryside [west] all the way out to the Iraqi border [east]. They have been able to create this continuous band of territory; this is precisely what the Syrian Kurds call Rojava, or the so-called Western province of Kurdistan.
As you can imagine, the Turks, who have a very deep antipathy to the idea of Kurdish separatism, of Kurdish nationalism, had asked the United States and the Russians and others to make sure that the Kurdish militia stayed to the east of Euphrates and didn’t cross the river. But this is not what happened. The Kurdish forces, with the others in the Syrian Democratic Forces, crossed the river, seized Manbij. That was a celebrated victory. As they began to make a move towards Jarabulus, that’s when the Turks entered.
So the idea that Turkey has entered this conflict to confront ISIS has very little credibility. What they really entered this conflict to do is to stop the Kurdish aspirations to create any kind of statelet inside Syria. And that’s why the Turkish offensive is called Euphrates Shield, because they are going to be the shield of the Euphrates River to prevent the Kurdish forces from coming across [westward].
Sharmini Peries: So these conditions are going to further intensify worsening relations with Turkey and the U.S. How do you think the U.S. is going to react to this?
PRASHAD: The United States is dancing around the issue of Turkey at present. At the time of the failed coup on July 15, there were very large sections even of Mr. Erdogan’s AKP party which suggested that the United States was behind the coup. At the time, John Kerry hastily flew to Turkey to ensure that people understood that the United States wasn’t behind that coup attempt. In a few days, Mr. Erdogan is going to meet President Obama. They’re going to have to talk about the situation, I’m sure. The Turkish government has said that it wants the United States to have the YPG forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces, move east of Euphrates. The American military officer who’s in charge of this liaison has said that, yes, the Syrian Democratic Forces will pull back across the Euphrates in order to go and make a dash at the so-called ISIS capital of Raqqa, which is on the eastern side of the Euphrates.
So everybody seems to be dancing around this question. Today, the Turkish government has announced that the Kurds have indeed been pushed to the east of Euphrates, but the YPG denies this. They say that they are still on the western side. There’s going to be a great deal of fancy footwork between Ankara and Washington to make sure that both Turkish goals here are going to be met, and at the same time to make sure that the Americans don’t lose the only fighting force they have on the ground.
The upshot here, Sharmini, is that the Kurdish fighters need to understand that they’re essentially being utilized in this war, but their goals, what they see as their goals, are not going to be allowed to be met.
Sharmini Peries: Right. And, Vijay, last time we were talking about Turkey, we were talking about Turkey-Russia relations. How would the Russians react to what’s going on right now?
PRASHAD: Very interestingly, when the YPG created this Syrian Democratic Forces, around the same time they opened a liaison office in Moscow, because they had suggested that they wanted to have close ties with the Russians. They also suggested that they, like the Russians, don’t take the position that the first path to peace in Syria is for the Assad regime to fall. So there was a kind of unity of purpose with the Russians at that time.
But, strikingly, the Russians are not making too much noise about what’s happening in this little struggle between the United States, Turkey, the Syrian Democratic Forces and Turkish proxies. They’re not making too much noise here. I think this is perhaps, from their point of view, a smart thing to do, because they want to maintain, I think, these new so-called warm ties with Turkey at the same time the Russians and the Americans are beginning to coordinate, much more intensely, bombing operations in northern Syria.
I see the Russians sitting this one out. They can see that there’s an important crack in the alliance that the West, the Turks, and the Gulf Arabs had created. And in the space of this alliance, as this begins to crack open, I think the Russians will have some advantages for themselves.
Sharmini Peries: Right. And finally, Vijay, do you see any possibilities or paths to untangle this situation that we are in in Syria?
PRASHAD: Of course there are paths to untangle the situation. Of course there needs to be confidence-building through these humanitarian pauses that the United Nations has been insisting on. There needs to be a return to Geneva. All those things need to happen.
But the specific question of northern Syria has no easy answer. The Turkish government is simply not going to allow a Kurdish federation to grow in northern Syria. At the same time, the Syrian Kurds are not going to easily drop their own ambitions to create Rojava or the Western province of Kurdistan. So this particular contradiction between Turkey and the Syrian Kurds is not going to be resolved in any easy fashion.
Vijay Prashad is the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College in Connecticutt. He is the author of twenty books, including ‘The Death of the Nation’ and the ‘Future of the Arab Revolution’ and co-editor of ‘Land of Blue Helmets: The UN in the Arab World’. He is a columnist for Frontline and AlterNet as well as a frequent contributor to The Hindu, Himal and Counterpunch.
Kurds fear the U.S. will again betray them, in Syria
By Tim Arango, New York Times, Sept, 1, 2016
ISTANBUL — For almost two years, Syrian Kurds, with American weapons, air cover and training, have fought and died in battle against the Islamic State. They have taken pride in their status as the United States’ most faithful proxy in the fight against the militant group, and they have hoped their effectiveness as warriors would lead to American support for Kurdish political gains inside Syria.
So, many Kurds shuddered when Turkish tanks and soldiers recently rolled into northern Syria, with American support, to push back against Kurdish gains. They saw it, perhaps prematurely, as a replay of a century of betrayal by world powers, going back to the end of World War I, when they were promised, then denied, their own state in the postwar settlement.
“The Kurds are going to scream betrayal at every turn when they think things are not going to go their way, because they’ve had a century of it,” said Joost Hiltermann, the program director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, and a longtime expert on the Kurds.
The Syrian Kurds say their aim is to establish an autonomous region, not their own state, where their rights are protected, in whatever settlement comes from the long Syrian civil war. And they say they hope that the United States will support them in that desire.
To accomplish that, though, they need to connect two of their territories: Afrin, in the west, and Kobani, in the east, an effort that Turkey sees as a national security threat to be thwarted at virtually any cost.
So, while the first aim of Turkey’s incursion last month into northern Syria was to push the Islamic State from the border town of Jarabulus, many believe Turkey’s primary goal was to thwart Kurdish territorial ambitions.
That the United States supported the move by Turkey, a NATO ally, reverberated among ethnic Kurds across the region, where they are spread across four countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey — and have long dreamed of their own state, while being oppressed by autocratic governments that have denied them basic political rights.
“These operations by Turkey are obviously more against the Kurds than Daesh,” said Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Iraqi Kurdish politician, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State. He added: “People are afraid now. People are really afraid of what could happen in the end.”
Drawing on history, Kurds see themselves as the playthings of world powers, used in proxy fights when it serves someone’s interest and then discarded.
The United States, on balance, has arguably been a great friend to the Kurds, coming to their aid after the Persian Gulf war in the early 1990s and helping to establish an autonomous region for them in Iraq, safe from Saddam Hussein’s brutality.
However, the United States also figures prominently in that historical memory of betrayal. In 1975, after the C.I.A. worked with Iran to supply weapons to the Kurds to fight Mr. Hussein’s regime, Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger abruptly pulled the plug after a reconciliation between Tehran and Baghdad.
“In 1975, the same betrayal of the Kurds happened,” said Hasos Hard, a Kurdish journalist in northern Iraq, when asked about his reaction to the American support for Turkey’s Syria incursion.
Many analysts, though, as well as Syrian Kurdish fighters on the ground, say the accusations of betrayal are not quite right — at least not yet.
There is little sign that the United States has abandoned the Syrian Kurds. American officials have worked to negotiate a truce on the ground between the rebels backed by Turkey and the Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, and fighting has calmed in recent days.
But many Kurds say they now see the writing on the wall and worry that once the Islamic State is driven from its capital in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the United States will sell them out.
Mr. Hiltermann said that when he traveled to northern Syria this year, he was asked this question, over and over, by the Kurds: “What do you think the Americans will do when Raqqa is taken?”
The question highlights the conundrum that the increasingly complicated Syrian battlefield presents the United States, which has tried to balance its relations with Turkey and the Syrian Kurds — a primary Turkish enemy because of their ties to militants inside the country.
Even though the United States has funneled weapons to the Syrian Kurds and provided them with military training, it has not established ties to the militia’s political wing, the Democratic Union Party, because of Turkish concerns. Nor has it promised them anything beyond military support in the fight against the Islamic State, other than expressions of support for a Kurdish role at the negotiating table when, or if, serious peace talks get underway.
Aliza Marcus, an author and expert on the Kurds, said, “It seems crass by the U.S.” to provide military support without any steps to establish political ties. This seems especially true now, she said, after the Kurds took heavy casualties in pushing the Islamic State out of Manbij, a city in northern Syria they recently liberated, and are now being asked to leave because Turkey does not want them there.
Lacking United States support, the Democratic Union Party has been shut out of Syrian peace talks that have been held in Geneva, and now there are increasing worries that Washington will eventually distance itself from the Syrian Kurds in a bid to improve relations with Turkey.
“The U.S. themselves, they say, these are the best fighters against Daesh,” said Mr. Othman, referring to the People’s Protection Units. “These are the best allies. Hopefully they will stick to that, and help them, and not leave them in the end.”
The recent events stand in marked contrast to a year ago, when it seemed that the Kurds were capitalizing on the turmoil in the Middle East to make historic gains. In Syria, they had secured land and found a powerful benefactor in the United States. In Turkey, for the first time, a Kurdish political party entered Parliament after elections. In Iraq, amid the fight against the Islamic State, they took control of Kirkuk, a city historically divided between Arabs and Kurds.
A year later, though, those prospects have dimmed. Iraq’s Kurds, somewhat insulated from the Syrian crisis, are pushing forward with their ambitions for independence, undaunted by an economic crisis. But in Turkey a decades-long war has resumed between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Turkish state, and the main Kurdish political party has been isolated from national politics. In Syria, the Turkish military has quashed the Kurds’ efforts to link their two territories.
Further complicating matters, the Syrian conflict has become intertwined with Turkey’s domestic turmoil. Turkey now sees itself as fighting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party on three fronts: in Turkey, in northern Syria and in northern Iraq, where its members hide out in the mountains. As a result, analysts now say that there can be no final settlement of the Syrian civil war without the resumption of peace talks between Turkey and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, of which the Democratic Union Party is its Syrian affiliate.
For now, the Kurds are still counting on the Americans to preserve them a place in a future Syrian state.
“They should help them politically, to have rights in Syria,” Mr. Othman said. The Kurds, he said, “want a new Syria to be established, with them having a say in it.”
If nothing else, the American military support, even without any promises on the political front, has legitimized the Syrian Kurds’ ambitions. It has helped them to secure a large section of territory they say they will never give up, no matter what their patrons do.
“Throughout history, the Kurds were abandoned,” said Ahmad Haj Mansour, a Democratic Union Party official who lives in Britain. “But now, the time and place is different. We don’t need world powers to survive. We are in charge of our land, and we have fighters.”
Follow Tim Arango on Twitter @tarangoNYT.
Turkey’s incursion into Syria: Discussion on Press TV
Interview/discussion on Iran’s Press TV (22 minutes) with Soraya Sepahpour Ulrich, independent researcher and writer in California, and Michael Lane, American Institute for Foreign Policy (Washington), September 3, 2016