In Multipolarity, Turkey / Türkiye

Commentary by Fehim Tastekin , published in Turkish in Gazete Duvar, translated and published in English in Kurdish Question, Nov 7, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Reuters)

Thus He [1] ordered, as loud as he could: “The YPG cannot cross to the west of the Euphrates!”

But they did. And not just from the west but also from the east, into the “impassable” Shehba region[of northern Syria].

He ordered again: “Hashd al-Shabi cannot enter Mosul!”

But again they did. They didn’t give a hoot.

As if war in the country wasn’t enough, it feels like a war that will engulf the whole world is going to break out. The air is as foggy and as misty as it can get.

Television news programmes show Turkish soldiers in Çankırı [northern Turkey]! Thirty wagons filled with young soldiers going on a journey south to the front line with prayers and ‘Allah Akbars’. It feels as if the country has been formatted and teleported back to the days of the mobilization of 1914. Nobody is asking; “Why are they being sent, why this voyage?”

He is a spectacular deterrent that roars and blusters, but everyone dances on his red lines. It’s another overrated ruse directed at the Big Power![2]

He isn’t afraid of anybody’s wrath. So why then constantly create red lines that cannot be defended! Why keep on saying, “Mosul belongs to Sunnis,” rather than saying “Iraq belongs to Iraqis!”

Why keep repeating, “This group can’t cross over here, this group can’t stay there!” When the people of Syria: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen are dying for their homes.

And why humiliate yourself to the whole world by scolding everyone. Is it so difficult to say, “Syria belongs to Syrians,” and “Iraq belongs to Iraqis?”

Nobody has free rein, especially with the amount of historical baggage you carry.

***

The insistence on playing the game in the international sphere with the attitude of a neighbourhood bully has resulted in small issues turning into fiery showdowns.

His shortsighted, measureless approach leaves no room for diplomacy and thinks that it can resolve all problems by repeatedly amassing soldiers.

And among this terrifying cacophony everybody is asking: “Why is the Islamic State’s defeat so hard for you to accept?”

This question sits heavily, like a stone, on one’s heart. If the heart is still a heart.

He still hasn’t understood though: Foreign policy doesn’t work in the manner of a market-seller who believes he will sell more watermelons if he shouts louder. Especially in the Middle East, where getting more done means speaking less. At the beginning of the Syria crisis, a Lebanese politician made this warning to Turkey.

***

The latest subject of uproar was the Syrian city of Raqqa. “If the YPG is included in the Raqqa operation we will not participate” they said, and they were disqualified. The YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched the operation to liberate the city on 5 November.

Statement by Syrian Democratic Forces on Nov 5, 2016 announcing beginning of operation to take city of Raqqa

Statement by Syrian Democratic Forces on Nov 5, 2016 announcing beginning of operation to take city of Raqqa

The operation, as if a response to Turkey’s ‘Euphrates Shield’, has been called the ‘Wrath of Euphrates’. So what happened to Obama and Erdogan’s meeting in which Turkey and the U.S. were supposedly planning a joint-operation to liberate the city together? What happened to that? We are up to our necks in lies, but there is no accountability! This is how it works in the new regime.

I asked YPG General Commander Sipan Hemo what was going on. According to the information he gave, the American-led coalition is going to encircle Raqqa aerially while Syrian forces move in from the north, east and west. A new plan is going to be made regarding the center of the city once they reach the Euphrates.

Syria and Russia are quiet on the matter because they are busy with Aleppo. Or they are pretending to be. It’s a ‘lesser of two evils’ situation. The operation is expected to last a while. Raqqa is after all IS’ central base. Furthermore, it is a city to which IS attaches symbolic importance to. IS, which resisted for 73 days in Manbij, will wage a very, very serious war in Raqqa.

The groups participating in the Raqqa operation alongside the YPG and YPJ are Liwa Suqur Raqqa, Liwa Tahrir, Liwa Shuhada Raqqa, Katibat Shuhada Hamam al-Turkman, Liwa Ahrar Raqqa, Liwa Thuwwar Tel Abyad and the Syriac Military Council. In other words, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen and Assyrians are shoulder-to-shoulder.

An important number of those participating in the operation are from Raqqa. The process following the liberation of the city is going to be directed by the Raqqa Military Council. The Kurds are going to withdraw after liberation. So Raqqa is going to be governed by Raqqans. Just like al-Hawl, al-Shaddadi and Tal-Abyad are governed by their local populations. Kurds see their role as ‘helping Raqqans’. Any more than this is not possible anyway.

***

The Wrath of Euphrates has importance for the Kurds and also Turkey, which has built its whole strategy against Kurds.

*  Kurds, without a doubt, are going to strengthen their legitimacy in the international sphere with this operation. Despite all of Ankara’s protestations the Rojava administration and PYD and also the YPG/YPJ are going to gain more opportunities for representation.

*  The Kurds’ position and bargaining power against the Syrian administration is also going to be strengthened.

*  Also the cleansing of IS from the Euphrates is going to lessen the possibility of attacks on Rojava. This in turn will give the Kurds and their partners the opportunity to fortify already liberated areas.

I’m not going to go into speculations claiming that Raqqa is going to be included in the to-be-declared Rojava-Northern Syria Democratic Federation. At this stage, nobody knows Raqqa’s fate. The only thing the actors on the ground can say is: “The future of Raqqa will be decided by Raqqans.”

The reflection of the Turkish government’s internal policy externally has yielded embarrassing results for Turkey:

*  The USA has chosen to partner with the YPG over its NATO ally; Ankara has labeled the group a terrorist organisation. They can try to hide this thrashing by using the ‘I’ll shout at the top my lungs’ tactic. But the authors of the ‘honourable foreign policy’ book aren’t going to expel the American ambassador and close Incirlik airbase are they! If they start saying ‘We’ll be included in the air’ like they did in Mosul, then we can say ‘they’re broken, pity them.’

*  That the operation has begun with the SDF leaves Turkey in the open on a few fronts: Firstly Turkey wanted to get the armed groups it is backing into al-Bab to cut off the Kurdish corridor from Kobane to Afrin from the south. It had already done this from the north by taking Jarablus.

map-of-northern-syriaIf Turkey had participated in the operation it would have encircled Rojava from al-Bab and then on its way to Raqqa. This would have created the conditions to prevent autonomy. Participation and partnership in Raqqa with the USA would also have given Turkey the opportunity to oust SDF forces from Manbij. Another calculation was to force a way to go to Raqqa from the east of the Euphrates through Tel-Abyad and sever Kobane and Jazira cantons. Even though this would have meant a direct war with the Kurds, it would have created a model where partnership with the USA would be centered on the ‘sacrificing of the Kurds’.

At this stage, none of these plans has worked.

However, could Turkey create a de facto situation in the north by raising the stakes with its groups there? There are no end to ruses in the neo-Ottoman Empire, but there are also red lights up ahead:

*  The likelihood that the Americans will continue working with the Kurds following the 8 November U.S. elections will limit Turkey…

*  Although ties have been mended with Putin, the stockpiling of S-300/S-400 missiles in Syria by the Russians says, ‘love in war is so wonderful my dear friend…’

*  The Syrian army’s right, which it hasn’t exercised until now, to defend its land and sovereignty…

*  And surprises that may come from local forces in the region who have declared Turkey as an invading power.

*  So, if some still want to say “Nobody should test the Turk’s power,” then I just want to say one final thing and then use my right to silence: Don’t be seduced by the salacity of the flame, it is not heaven that is calling you!

Notes:
[1] Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
[2] The USA.

Related reading:

U.S. promises Turkey role in Raqqa in surprise Ankara meeting, by Amberin Zaman, Al-Monitor, Nov 7, 2016

U.S. efforts to appease Turkey over its collaboration with Syrian Kurdish-led forces to take Raqqa, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State, appeared to have yielded some progress over the weekend following an unannounced visit by Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Ankara. Following 4½ hours of talks with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, Dunford said, “The coalition and Turkey will work together on the long-term plan for seizing, holding and governing Raqqa”…

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